Excavating the origins of accelerationism

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The intellectual history of accelerationism remains largely unexplored, though critiques from intellectual history abound. A criticism often levelled at Land, for instance, is his supposed inadequacy as a reader of Deleuze and Guattari. This is at root an intellectual-historical argument, and the intellectual historian will recognise it as Skinnerian: a historical actor, Skinner’s maxim goes, cannot be ascribed any belief that they themselves would not have recognised as an adequate description of their beliefs.

This is to some degree a fair critique when levelled at someone trying to present such a description of intentions, but the CCRU were competent and interesting investigators of Deleuze and Guattari precisely because they did not assume the posture of historicists recovering what these writers actually thought, or of scholars contributing a new and convincing reading to a burgeoning field of scholarship. The qwertopological decoding of A Thousand Plateaus and Barker’s geotraumatic investigations into the screaming of the earth were never supposed to unravel a fine jigsaw of meanings artistically assembled in the 1970s by a French philosopher and a psychoanalyst. They highlighted signals whose transmission the two men could only barely have recognised. In this sense, the historicist critique of CCRU’s ‘reading of Deleuze and Guattari’ misses the point. Clearly they are not simply unconnected, but too strong a preference for exposition leads academics down crumbling corridors to the charnel house of interpretive scholarship. Unleashing ideas—intercepting signals—demands a different approach. In the course of the history of ideas, reshaping and novelty have always trumped antiquarian precision.

Just as the CCRU did more than to establish a particular school of Deleuze–Guattari interpretation, accelerationism in general cannot be considered a school of Deleuzianism, and critique of its appropriacy as such a school is misdirected. Many self-identified accelerationists do not consider themselves ‘Deleuzian’, and it bears mention that the name of Deleuze has not figured at all in this blog up to now. The Deleuzian character of much of contemporary accelerationism is a contingency, not a necessity. My own interaction with accelerationism began through reading Marx and Nietzsche. Its contours can equally be derived from other thinkers, perhaps countless others, if only you know where to look.

To trace the genealogy of accelerationism is thus fraught with problems. On the most superficial level, accelerationism has existed for about a decade. At its unspoken core, it is impossibly ancient. Different focuses will yield wildly divergent results. No doubt an article on ‘accelerationism’ in some distant future edition of the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe would take care to highlight the term’s formulation by Noys, having traced the concern with ‘acceleration’ through obvious references back to Deleuze and Guattari, and from there to Nietzsche. It would look to the term’s adoption and disavowal by different groups on left and right in the mid to late 2010s. As an exercise in etymology this would be interesting enough; as a genealogical investigation it would be disastrous. Accelerationism is not a specific reading of Nietzsche any more than capitalism is a reading of Smith. A Marxian accelerationist does not need to have read a single page of A Thousand Plateaus to remain an accelerationist. Similar conclusions—similar sentiments—have been expressed from traditions seemingly almost entirely unaware of each other.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it is best not to think of accelerationism, in the first instance, as a set of ideas at all. Land has described what he terms ‘libidinal materialism’ as more a ‘jangling of the nerves’ than a set of doctrines. Accelerationism is not identical with libidinal materialism, but the same observation seems abundantly to apply to it. With the appropriate historical sensibility, modulations of accelerationism soon well up in widely divergent contexts, all over the world, advancing along the storm-front of industrial capitalism. It emerges as a sensation of the acceleration characteristic of modernity itself, expressed in different ways by Marx, Hirato, Baudrillard, and plenty others. The drive to posit this expression in specifically philosophical form is perhaps peculiarly influenced by Western tradition. The sensation itself is not.

This magic trick of flickering appearance and disappearance cannot be explained according to the conventions of conceptual history precisely because accelerationism is not a figment of the ideal history of concepts moving of their own accord, one carefully crafted ideology among others. It is an impulse proper to modern capitalism itself. Whatever letters are jammed before the slash, no systematised species of accelerationism can exhaust or perfectly transmit this underlying impulse: much is necessarily lost in the transformation from impulse to revelation. In Rahnerian style, we may say that the advent of capitalism has produced thousands of ‘anonymous accelerationists’, not to speak of anonymous accelerators who number many orders of magnitude more.

This, indeed, may lie at the heart of the difficulties with identifying a pure and spotless ‘concept of acceleration’. The different species of accelerationism—whether self-conscious or not—are not deductive representations of a single concept. Their core appears to be something more fundamental—a mode of preconscious interaction that eludes exhaustive conceptual codification. The search for a genealogy of accelerationism rapidly becomes social, economic, physiological, geotraumatic. The origin of this signal recedes beyond our grasp.

When it is written, then, 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.

Unconditional accelerationism as antipraxis

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If the public articulation of unconditional accelerationism has slowed in recent months, the reception and controversy it has occasioned have not. The silence, of course, is superficial. The storm above is bloated; soon, the sea-green sky will break, and the air will be filled with transmissions from the vastness beyond. It is best to explain the situation before it is too late.

What is unconditional accelerationism?—What, in any case, is accelerationism?

Nick Land has offered an excellent answer to this question in his ‘Quick-and-Dirty Introduction’, but from the U/ACC perspective much more remains to be said. The problem has been muddied by its own continual posing in humanist terms, which have provoked a refusal to understand the enormity of the issues at stake. From this perspective of humanism, thought is assimilated entirely to the objective of negotiating the problems that are held to confront humanity. Philosophically, it is concerned with epistemological understanding founded implicitly or not on the centrality of a coherent human subject; critically, it reduces the world to the relations of power practiced by humans towards humans; politically, it immerses itself in defining and putting into motion a better human society. Thought is rendered finally as a series of technical questions that constitute the tactical mapping of a topography whose ultimate form is placed beyond dispute.

This insistent backwater parochialism has eclipsed the intellectually interesting content of accelerationism. In colloquial usage on the left, for instance, ‘accelerationism’ has come to denote merely the idea that the situation of humanity must get worse before it gets better. At the heart of this definition lies the insistent, obsessional humanist question, ‘What is to be done?’, the fundamental question of praxis. The answer is rendered: ‘We must make things worse, so that they get better.’ This uninteresting idea has provoked an avalanche of furious critique of a commensurate intellectual scale. It is the doctrine, we are told, of ‘a dim child, trapped in a train about to crash, pretending he’s the driver’. Quite right, yet the critics protest too much: this is a feeling that has been characteristic of modern radicalism for centuries. Fourier’s prophecies of impending catastrophe shade into the Leninist theory of the intensification of contradictions, on and on up to the present day. A hundred years ago this idea was called catastrophism, and if it is a sickness, it is a sickness that is far more powerful and pervasive than most casual dismissals of the idea would have us believe.

If this is not the accelerationist response, of course, a clamour immediately arises for the real answer. A number of options are duly presented. For Srnicek and Williams and other managerialists, the worsening is cut out of the picture: things will get better if only we establish a practical political hegemony that can make it so. This, apparently, is the real content of accelerationism: an opposition to the diffuse localisms that regress from the hard work of great politics into ‘spaces of resistance’ and fantasies of escape. In this response, of course, the humanist obsession reaches a totalising climax: the human capacity to reshape the world is utterly unbound; the promised land lies not beyond but immediately ahead.

The unconditional accelerationist dismisses the question. On its very terms, human agency has already been elevated to become the guide and measure of the world, and this, conceptually, is intolerable. It is precisely against this view that accelerationism defines itself as ‘antihuman(ist)’, and against the fundamental question of praxis that it offers ‘antipraxis’. This can hardly mean ‘Do nothing’, of course: that would mean not just to return to the fundamental question of praxis, but to offer perhaps the most numbly tedious answer of all. The unconditional accelerationist, instead, referring to the colossal horrors presented to the human agent all the way from the processes of capital accumulation and social complexification to the underlying structure, or seeming absence of structure, of reality itself, points to the basic unimportance of unidirectional human agency. We ‘hurl defiance to the stars’, but in their silence—when we see them at all—the stars return only crushing contempt. To the question ‘What is to be done?’, then, she can legitimately answer only, ‘Do what thou wilt’—and ‘Let go.’

We insist, then, that there is no promised land, no socialist Prester John waiting ready and hidden either in the icy winds of human political temporality or in the solar-hot chaos of urban intensity. Far from discouraging the unconditional accelerationist or beckoning her to the grim convent of asceticism, however, the ruins in which this realisation contemptuously leaves us are the terrain of a genuine, even, properly, horrific aesthetic freedom that is liberated from the totality of a one-directional political teleology. ‘Do what thou wilt’, since with human agency displaced, the world will route around our decisions, impressing itself precisely through our glittering fractionation. Taking the smallest steps beyond good and evil, the unconditional accelerationist, more than anyone else, is free at heart to pursue what she thinks is good and right and interesting—but with the ironical realisation that the primary ends that are served are not her own. For the unconditional accelerationist, the fastidious seriousness of the problem-solvers who propose to ‘save humanity’ is absurd in the face of the problems they confront. It can provoke only Olympian laughter. And so, ‘in its colder variants, which are those that win out, [accelerationism] tends to laugh.’

This freedom is what antipraxis means, and this uncompromising conceptual opposition not to the practice, but to the very capacity to regulate the transcendental diagram of acceleration, and the overthrow of normative commandments this provokes, constitutes one form of its unconditionality. And with this, we can hear the murky waters already rushing down the streets.

Park Chung-hee Napoleon

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If it is true, as Foucault claimed, that Hegel stands waiting, motionless, at the end of every path we beat away from him, then we should not be surprised if the same is true of the greatest of Hegel’s world-historical actors—Napoleon. In a famous letter of 1806, Hegel had described his awe at seeing Napoleon in person: ‘a marvellous feeling to see such a personality, concentrated in one point, dominating the entire world from horseback’. Within the Hegelian system, this came to represent a covert obsession, even an embarrassment: the figure of voluntary intervention necessary to set right the otherwise inevitable course of the world-spirit. He appears in another guise in the Philosophy of Right, where in the Addition to section 138 we read that ‘Socrates made his appearance at the time when Athenian democracy had fallen into ruin. He evaporated the existing world and retreated into himself…’ Socrates, like Napoleon, becomes a person in whom the world coheres in one place, who makes the decision to ‘evaporate’ the decayed existing order and restart the historical process.

Napoleon’s great leap forwards, his supposed renunciation of the processes of history, echoes not just in Hegel but throughout the subsequent history of European political philosophy. Thus, for Marx, ‘Bonapartism’ could denote a pathology where the state, supposedly an organ of the bourgeoisie, begins by miraculous powers to move of its own accord. For Nietzsche, Napoleon was the greatest of all European statesmen, a figure of acceleration impatient for the coming of the overman, yet also a symbol of the delirium that this proactive acceleration begets, the general of a ‘war to the death’ (Todeskrieg) who reminds the poet Nietzsche that despite his best intentions ‘there [can be] no revaluation without terror and trauma, [without] bodies and office buildings reduced to dust’ (Dombowski).

Land, then, is a little off the mark when he claims that ‘French identity, radically conceived, corresponds to a failed national project’. In the legacy of Napoleon, the people’s emperor who culminated the Revolution, France at last transcended itself. Napoleon himself, of course, died powerless and a prisoner, his grand plans for an imperial reordering of the world torn apart by the concert of Vienna. Yet his shadow has loomed for centuries after his defeat: the blurry figure of the genius in whose hands history dissolves into putty, the nightmare of determinism, Asimov’s Mule.

For the unconditional accelerationist as much as for the social historian, of course, the voluntarist quality of this image is a lie. Napoleon’s supposed flight from history can amply be recuperated within the process of history itself, if only we revise our image of what this is: not a flat space or a series of smooth curves, but rather a tangled, homeorhetic, deep-subversive spiral-complex. Far from shaping history like putty, Napoleon like all catastrophic agents of time-anomaly unleashed forces that ran far ahead of his very intentions: pushing Europe’s engagement with Africa and the Middle East onto a new plane, promulgating the Code Napoleon that would shape and selectively boost the economic development of continental Europe. In this respect, the image of him offered later by Marinetti is altogether more interesting. In his 1941 ‘Qualitative Imaginative Futurist Mathematics’, Marinetti claimed that Futurist military ‘calculations are as precise as those of Napoleon who in some battles had all of his couriers killed and hence his generals autonomous‘. Far from the prideful image of a singular genius strutting as he pleases across the stage of world history, here Napoleon becomes something altogether more monstrous. Foreshadowing Bataille’s argument a few years later that the apex of sovereignty is precisely an absolute moment of unknowing, he becomes a head that has severed itself from its limbs, falling from its body as it gives way to the sharp and militant positive feedback it has unleashed.

This is not just the position of the Napoleon who died to give birth to the Napoleonic legacy. It is the position of an entire category of historical agents.

In the twentieth century, the figure who best approximates Napoleon as the supreme agent of historical intervention is not, as some would have it, Adolf Hitler. It is Park Chung-hee. A man of bizarre thought and background, a fascist strictu sensu who fought for both the Japanese and the communists and was at one point sentenced to death, over 18 years of escalating despotic rule in South Korea Park Chung-hee went on to catapult his nation from being one of the most disastrously impoverished countries in the world, once confined by IMF experts onto a permanent trajectory of agrarian servitude, towards becoming one of the most prosperous. The South Korean economy grew, on aggregate, faster under his presidency than perhaps any other major economy in the history of the world, well surpassing even China at the later height of its growth. The South Korean case pushes the very limits of our understanding of the world economy: theories collapse beneath its weight.

To understand its significance, we must begin by recognising that far from being a story of the triumph of a free capitalism over communism, the reality of Park Chung-hee’s rule and the overtaking of the North by the South is more than a little uncomfortable for a right-libertarian (though not, perhaps, for someone like Peter Thiel). Park was not just a sovereign dictator but an inveterate interventionist, who constructed an entire sequence of bureaucracies to oversee the expansion of the economy according to determinate Five-Year Plans. In private notes, he emphasised the ideology of the February 26 incident in Japan, the militarised attempt to effect a ‘Shōwa Restoration’ that would have united the Japanese race politically and economically behind a totalitarian emperor. In Japan this had failed: in Korea, Park himself could be the president-emperor, declaiming on his ‘sacred military revolution’ of 1961 that had brought together the ‘Korean race’. At the same time, he explicitly imitated the communist North, proclaiming the need for spiritual mobilisation and a ‘path of the leader’ 지도자의길 around which the nation would cohere. The carefully-coordinated mass histrionics after his death in 1979 echoed closely the spectacle with which we are still familiar in North Korea.

If the results of Park’s efforts speak for themselves, it seems that in an important sense this must be despite his intentions. Park himself was assassinated, and his political project fell into ruin (a ruin, it must be added, that has only deepened with the recent disgrace of his daughter). The forces that he unleashed, like Napoleon but in a far more concrete sense, outran by leaps and bounds the esoteric ideological background that had motivated Park. The fact that Park’s system literally destroyed him—he was assassinated by the director of his own overgrown secret police force—should only heighten this intuition. It appears that something radically antithetical to certain of the conventional features of capitalism can still ultimately and despite itself serve its unfolding. We may note that a similar argument has even be made of the Soviet Union, which can be said to have acted, in the end, as an extended despotic phase of primitive accumulation that jump-started the industrial capitalism of Russia and Eastern Europe.

In Park’s rather more successful case, the developmental process proceeded, whatever else he thought, according to a very particular political-economic praxis. It was one that mirrors darkly the imperative set out by Srnicek and Williams that ‘the command of The Plan must be married to the improvised order of The Network’: this was, indeed, precisely the method of the Park regime, with its centrally authored Five-Year Plans that were implemented not by the direct means of the command economy, but by careful tactical manipulation of the market, through private entities folded under political oversight and especially through state control over the disbursement of loans. In other words, it appears that in the developmentalist state under Park we are looking, whatever Park himself thought he was doing, at something very much like a left-accelerationist phase in capitalist development.

In ‘Teleoplexy’, the self-proclaimed right-accelerationist Land intriguingly notes the possibility that

some instance of intermediate individuation—most obviously the state—could be strategically invested by a Left Accelerationism. precisely in order to submit the virtual-teleoplexic lineage of Terrestrial Capitalism (or Techonomic Singularity) to effacement and disruption.

With Park in mind, we may go further than Land on this point, recuperating Park within history the same way we have recuperated Napoleon. It is an expected feature of capitalist development that states around the world are called upon to make decisive interventions that reset the course of economic development in particular spaces and open new determinate avenues of capitalist development. Peter Thiel’s famous contrast of 1-to-n and 0-to-1 innovation summarises in numeric form what appears as a continual spiral phase-shift between developmentalist verticality and multiplicative horizontality that is inherent to the dynamic of capitalism.

This developmentalist prong is precisely capitalism’s response to the left-accelerationist concern over its internal stagnation, and it constitutes the reality of any left-accelerationist praxis rigorously applied. These developmentalist interventions are far from being the comfortable process of democratic planning envisaged by the left-accelerationists, however; nor are they stable or indefinitely sustainable. They take place in strange and unpredictable ways and happen across a diversity of spaces. They are necessarily austere, temporally limited, and brutal. They throw the entire force of the state behind the radical extension of techonomic development to the immediate detriment of all its other functions. They may assume the form of a great leap forwards like that pioneered most ostentatiously by Park; they may even be a great war such as the one that rebooted American and German capitalism alike in 1945. Perhaps the Trump administration, or one of its successors, will be remembered as another example. As Marx predicted, this function of the state can be overcome only by the self-overcoming of capitalism itself according to the process I have previously discussed; it is the intensification of capital that forces open the negative spaces that allow, finally, for the ‘letting go’ that constitutes the core and substance of unconditional accelerationism, first in SEZ-style holes and glitches; ultimately, as the state is obsolesced in its function as the conduit of capital accumulation and of radical war, the deep blue expanse of the deterritorialised sea—Anti-Leviathan. As this process intensifies at a social and political level, it overwhelms, in any case, any regulatory ability to channel it.

Park Chung-hee Napoleon demonstrates at its extreme the tangled structure of the history of capital. Capitalism’s intensities are geographically and temporally uneven; they spread through loops and spectacular digressions. Human agencies and the mechanisms of the state have their important place within this capitalist megamachine. But things never quite work out the way they plan.

Berger on praxis

Edmund Berger unpacks the prescriptive theory of unconditional accelerationism via Yaneer Bar-Yam: ‘The complexity profile is rising and will continue, and as it does the capability for collective intervention will become all but impossible.’

Deterritorial Investigations

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One of the major points of contention concerning unconditional accelerationism (henceforth U/ACC) is a perceived slight or rejection of any ‘positive’ form of political activity or organizing. The complaint can be summed up with the single phrase “U/ACC lacks praxis”. In the common leftist deployment of the phrase, this is exactly correct. Moreover, we could go as far to say that U/ACC rejects praxis, even that it is anti-praxis – yet, at the same time, this is not so straightforward. If we step back take praxis in its most broad sense – the higher form of acting in the world – then U/ACC is hardly anti-praxis; it simply asks that the limits and the inevitable dissolution of things be acknowledged (there is no contradiction between posing this alongside the Xenofeminist mantra “if nature is unjust, change nature”). No, U/ACC manifests an anti-praxis line when a very specific sort is proposed…

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The missing homeostat

medea‘I’d three times sooner go to war than suffer childbirth once.’

In his 2009 book The Medea Hypothesis, paleontologist Peter Ward offers a provocative theory of ecology. Motivated by the realisation of climate science that ‘there are indeed situations where life does not better the environment for itself but in fact makes things worse’, Ward takes the idea to its radical conclusion. Geologically, he notes, the catastrophes that now loom over us are hardly novel. Mass extinctions wrack the history of the planet; destruction has sprung from every step of evolution, every killing-machine it has created. Far from being a stable system of vital equilibrium, in fact, the biosphere is an ocean of aggressive algorithms, a seething orgy of death that threatens at every moment to overwhelm the fragile suspension in which it is contained. The Greek figure who best characterises our planetary ecosystem is not Gaia, then, the watchful mother-goddess. It is Medea, the wife of Jason who killed her children to repay his betrayal. Zero is immense, and the Earth suffers not its offspring.

Leo Löwenthal, in an essay on the Norwegian poet and Nazi sympathiser Knut Hamsun, claimed that in his work Hamsun had hypostatised nature into a vengeful and authoritarian father-figure, constructing a fascism of nature over humanity. The same tendency can be found in many kinds of environmentalism today, which have often taken the form of a curiously middle-class longing for an imaginary, unalienated, primitive past. This might, in fact, make scientific sense in the parameters of James Lovelock’s famous Gaia theory, which holds that the ‘total ensemble of living organisms which constitute the biosphere can act as a single entity’, an ‘active adaptive control system’. As an immense homeostat, Gaia really would be a watchful regulator whose wrath comes down on those who challenge its reign. But recent analysis has found the Gaia hypothesis lacking. The balance of nature is not just lacking, in fact: it seems not to exist. The longing for return, Ward tells us, is misplaced. For the wise judgemental father, Medea substitutes a mother gone insane. There is no hope, no protection, to be found in her authority: humanity is just one vector of extinction among many, one of innumerable spirals of positive feedback spun out by Medea to kill her children.

Killing children, in fact, is the one thing nature does best. It is one of the most fundamental laws of physics that in the long run, everything tends—speeds—to zero. The ostensibly negentropic heterogenisation both of life and of the unlife of capital in itself cranks up global entropy, radiating heat and disorder precisely according to entropy’s thermodynamic definition. Black-eyed Carl Sagan: ‘We are a way for the Cosmos to kill itself.’ In this sense there is something horrific about Heidegger’s famous question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ Jean-François Lyotard’s talk of the ‘solar catastrophe’, the unbearable knowledge of the Earth’s far-future destruction by the Sun’s own inevitable escape from control, is joined by Nick Land’s despairing cry in The Thirst for Annihilation: ‘Space echoes like an immense tomb, yet the stars still burn. Why does the sun take so long to die? … Is death itself shy of us?’ Philosophically, these all express the same realisation: that the Universe is playing tricks on us. It kills itself not by smooth projection from Big Bang singularity to cosmic zero, but through infinite, frenzied local excesses, ‘accursed shares’ that waltz across gradients of entropy, occulting the cosmic death-drive underlying it all. Far from being a thermostat, the Universe seethes perversely with positive feedback spirals. Cosmic expansion accelerates, ripping itself apart. Black holes are punctured in the opposite direction: the internal energy of an imploding star generates, by mass-energy equivalence, more gravitational attraction, releasing more energy, strengthening gravity, collapsing in exponentiating singularity…

Rewind back to Earth. As the Medea hypothesis suggests, it’s certainly not just at the unimaginable scales of astrophysics that we find these processes. Exponential runaway is not a peculiar feature of technological modernity; intelligence-explosion is just one of an entire category of exponential xenoecological processes. ‘The Singularity’, then, is not humanity’s escape from death, those ‘idiotic gurglings of futurologists’ mocked by Metcalf in ‘Neo-Futurism’—’you and I: we’re gonna live forever’. The Singularity is the icon of the insistent supremacy of death itself—machines embodying dead labour, machines embodying the death of the human as another phase of the process—happening not by human intention and planning, but by a profoundly inhuman dark mirror-image of that ‘ruse of reason’ identified in varying ways by Kant, Hegel, and Negarestani (or as the providential aspect of Gnon in latter-day Land). The term ‘Anthropocene’, in this sense, is a misnomer. Humanity is not the protagonist of this story. Our contribution to positive-feedback capital growth intelligence explosion, as much as our orgies of destruction, all themselves enact spontaneously the grim commands embodied in nature’s own laws of exponential returns. Georges Cuvier, the founding theorist of nineteenth-century catastrophism, put it best in his Essay on the Theory of the Earth: if it appears to humans that nature is ‘never disturbed, except by the ravages of war’, in fact nature itself has had interminable ‘intestine wars … the surface of the globe has been broken up by revolutions and catastrophes’. Anthropogenic disaster is just a small subset of the panoply of triumphant catastrophe that nature serves itself.

Perhaps part of the reason the Medea hypothesis has attained less traction than it ought to have done, despite this radical revaluation of the way we perceive the world, is that Ward does not take these implications far enough. He retains a humanistic, anthropocenic faith that with decisive planning efforts humanity can resist the horror of Medea, replacing her by the construction of an artificial Gaia. The unconditional accelerationist rejects this conceptually, not out of moral disdain, but because of the transparent character of its futility. Like the species of solar excess it embodies and like the Universe as a whole, modernity escapes control. Its drive towards the increasing returns of AI, markets, and all its other cybernetic features, reflect precisely the unrestrained suicidal/libidinal character that runs rampant over it. Conceived radically in this sense, the Medea hypothesis helps highlight the transcendental character of ‘accelerationism as the critique of the primacy of the secondary’. It furnishes a thoroughly disequilibrated accelerationist ecology.

All this is far removed, of course, from most of our everyday experience. But it has important implications for our understanding of contemporary capitalism as a megamechanical social order, an understanding carried out according to the transcendental conceptual diagram of acceleration. The homeostat reigned over the first phase of cybernetics: the system that regulates itself, military command-control. Spontaneous acceleration reigns over the second: resilient and ever-improving networks, distributed systems that escape control of their nodes. This, not homeostasis, is the architecture of modernity conceived cybernetically, and reflects the virtually-ontological process of overthrow that the unconditional accelerationist places at the heart of her understanding of reality. If we take seriously the analysis of terminal-Marx, the story of modern capitalism is not homeostatic, but, at best, homeorhetic: delirious oscillation cycles over an exponential trendline of falling rate of profit and capital-alienation determined by the heartbeat of overproduction crises. To understand its implications, Medea will serve far better than Gaia. We are not breaking the homeostat. The homeostat was missing all along.

With thanks to Pale Pink Spectre and Edmund Berger.

Sinofutures

wallhaven-274523Kuldar Leement, ‘Cyrstal’

In 1989, a curious series of science fiction novels began to appear in print. The series—titled Chung Kuoseemed out of step with the time. It portrayed a world in which China had taken over the planet, destroying the memory of European dominance and imposing a fantastical revival of imperial Chinese culture across the Earth. To contemporary observers, whatever its quality as literature, the setting imagined by David Wingrove seemed self-evidently ridiculous. China was the country of Tiananmen, a communist dictatorship akin to the Soviet with less reformist energy. It was hardly the image of the future: that honour had been reserved, by journalists, policymakers, and the mainstream of science fiction authors alike, to Japan. Gerald Jonas, reviewing the peculiar series in the New York Times at the very opening of the decade that was to prove so disastrous for China’s eastern neighbour, was withering in his assessment. The ‘vision of a Chinese-dominated future’, he pronounced, ‘seems arbitrary, ungrounded in historical process, intended not as a vehicle for speculating on the shape of things to come or commenting on things as they are but solely to sustain a fast-moving entertainment.’

A few years after Wingrove’s imaginative intervention, a similar sci-fi-doped break with the times took place at the bleeding edge of philosophy in a very different direction. Detaching themselves from the Japanese thralldom of their cyberpunk literary progenitors, Nick Land and the CCRU collective at Warwick summoned China as the focal point of the anti-order they saw struggling to be born. In their prophesies of the mid-90s on China appears again and again, both as the harbour of a deterritorialising Cantonese molecularism ‘engineering’ the country ‘from the periphery’, and as a conjuring from the darkness of a demonic synthesis of Maoist dialectic and hypercapitalist automation—‘blacked-out in visions of China’‘Neo-China arrives from the future’—’The Superiority of Far Eastern Marxism’—’The Chairman’s voice speeds up into an insect buzz as he speaks’. Whether the technoindustrial immensities of the ‘Tao-drenched Special Economic Zones’ or the negativising fury of the Cultural Revolution, they drew out into trance-like infinity the drumbeat of endless, even exterminationist productivism, ‘more, more, more’, that characterised, for them, modern China at each stage of its postwar development.

As Japan sank into the depths of its now familiar and long-drawn-out crisis, the less conventional countercurrents of orientalism, whether romantically inflected as for Wingrove or cybernetically as for Ccru, seemed to have had the last laugh. The early accelerationist engagement with the liberative, frenziedly overproductionist core of Maoism, indeed, remains both more legitimate and less tedious than the hoary communist-conservatism of a Badiou, a representative of an earlier and all-too-orthodox theoretical engagement with Chinese thought and praxis.

In the 2000s, Sinophilia seeped—then flooded—from the avant-garde into the mainstream. The anointing of the ‘BRICs’ in 2001, the production of popular science fiction like Firefly depicting a Chinese way of the future, all combined to produce a general cultural sentiment that the world was ‘re-Orienting’ to China—heating feverishly up as the Western economies fell (back) into general crisis in the aftermath of 2007–8 while China seemed to power on regardless. Western liberals and postcolonial nationalists alike now looked to China as a new model, free from the troubles of liberal democracy, self-assured, ready, unlike Japan, to seize control of the historical process. The inauthentic orientalist engagement of all-too-many Sinologists and ‘China analysts’ substituted itself for the imaginative sophistication of the early Sinoprophets, creating and elevating the inevitable and inevitably monotonous liberal inflection of China’s image in the West. In different ages, different spaces have served as canvases for the projection of political imaginaries: Ireland in the ascendant British Empire, the Middle East for Europeans in the early 20th century. Now it is China for the West.

By 2017, however, something (as with so much else) seems to have gone wrong. Under Xi Jinping, Liberal China is failing to materialise and SchizoChina is under sustained assault. It goes without saying that China is not Japan: in point of fact, there are many reasons to accord China a benefit of the doubt never due to Japan as to the legitimacy of its pretension to hegemonise futurity. But just as in the Japanese case—and mirroring, conceptually, the psychodrama now sweeping the world of an uncontrollable cyberpolitics unmoored from material progress—the imagination of Sinofuturism has run up against the limits both of material production and of political organisation. China’s economic status is uncertain—though hardly the spectacular crash predicted by the dissenting ‘China bears’—and its politics under Xi reaggregating towards a new form of retro-Maoist populism grounded on past forms of communist mobilisation as much as on the new forms of cyberpolitics, crushing from either side liberal-libertarian fantasies of the opening-up and subsequent withering of the Chinese state.

Far from allowing itself to be reengineered by its peripheries or releasing the schizophrenic fragmentation of the Sinospheric diaspora, the People’s Republic Leviathan has tended more and more towards the reterritorialising reaction that preeminently characterises imperial metastasis, reimposing the leadership of the central command state, state suppression of the desires and hot culture of Hong Kong, attempting to consolidate the world-strewn ‘Han race’ into an extension of the war machine. Conceptually, this phenomenon has produced a kind of cognitive dissonance pushing into Wingrovian romanticism. In the darkness beneath its lengthening shadow, a strange identity has emerged between the sections of the accelerationist right and left praising this Old New China. From the right, in a flagrant abandonment of patchwork theory, we are told that China’s rise is abetted by its homogeneity, its racial unity and sense of purpose. From the left, China is praised for its ascendancy as counter-hegemon; in a curious repetition of postcolonialist defences of the Japanese Empire, and implicitly repeating their right-wing comrades, the despotic tendencies of the People’s Republic are justified for the robustness of their impending war-assault against a white colonial world order.

We should not be in any doubt as to the character of these reactions: they are fascist, just as fascist as they were a century ago.

Drill deeper: This process of identification has gone hand in hand with an abandonment of interest by Westerners, partly at the behest of a Chinese state anxious as it ever is over the subversive potential of cults, in the plural heterodoxies that once so powerfully struck Ccru. The welling tides of ‘anti-authoritarian counter-culture’ have been replaced by a sterile vision of Neo-Neo-Confucian order, Singapore displacing Hong Kong. 天下, tianxia: in its history the word means both ‘all under heaven’ and ‘empire’. The heart of this mundane-imperial Confucian cosmos is the universal state, and therefore to fetishise Confucianism against all other currents is no less than to fetishise the state. Though Confucian politics and ritual have provided the stable institutional setting of Chinese cosmopolis, it has always been surging heterodoxies, whether ‘Daoist’, Buddhist, liberal, even communist, that have pushed China forward on the path of techonomic acceleration. Non-interventionist imperative is mirrored not in Confucian honesty but in the legalist canon that constitutes the arcana imperii of the Chinese empire, in Hanfeizi’s image of the shadow emperor who says nothing and does nothing. Beyond providing the institutional setting of cosmopolis, orthodoxy, just as it is anywhere else, becomes a roadblock on the way.

Pretending to heterogeneity, the right supports imperium. Pretending to cosmopolitanism, the left supports despotism. Enough. A legitimate engagement with China demands greater intellectual weight; it demands the abandonment of all romantic orientalism. Lawrence Lek’s video essay ‘Sinofuturism’ offers a more promising route out (perhaps unsurprisingly, given that he is not simply depicting an alien Other). Lek’s analysis is typologically, if unintentionally, unconditional-accelerationist. He focuses not on China’s political actuality but on its virtuality as a ‘science fiction that already exists’, a Sinofuturism that ‘has arisen without conscious intention or authorship’. China is gripped by immense and unimaginable flows not just of capital but of massed humanity. For Lek, it is an ‘emergent artificial intelligence’ not because of its control by communist brain-core or any fascist homogeneity but because of its constitution as a cosmic neural network.  Lek subverts, relentlessly, the dreams both of the Chinese state and of the Western imaginary. He upholds those parts of the Chinese futurological condition that in their reterritorialising mindset both, in turns, find so deficient, ‘gaming’, ‘addiction’, ‘computational OCD’, taking them to their delirious end consequences. In theoretical form, this, precisely, is acceleration without conditions.

Real conceptual cosmopolitanism, as Kodwo Eshun, McKenzie Wark, and others have seen, means going beyond the limits of the West. It is not just an ‘internal critique’ that stands on the detritus of European philosophy—though as with all other things it will cannibalise this as it sees fit. It is a radical identity with the Other: Xenofuturism in all its forms. It would be pointless to formulate this in manifesto form. Xenofuturism does not need Western adherents. To remain relevant, Westerners need it.

Acceleration without conditions

Among the choirs that sing the discordant theories of accelerationism, a sudden unease: In their songs, a strange new cadence struggles to emerge. It seems to threaten all their aesthetic labour so far. For now, it is a tendency that is provisionally labelled ‘unconditional’. Other alternatives have been suggested: non-Euclidean accelerationism. Total accelerationism. Terminal accelerationism. Pure accelerationism. All capture some part of the conceptual phenomenon. Perhaps it is not so ‘new’. But let us proceed with the original label, and attempt a preliminary definition of it. (No ‘manifesto’ here: do with it what you will.)

Unconditional accelerationism begins with a renunciation of the retrograde politicisation to which accelerationism has fallen subject. It denounces the tedious political forms and utopian humanist fantasies of the self-titled left-accelerationists, their high-modernist pretence to control over the uncontrollable. That Srnicek and Williams identify Land’s work as pointing merely to an indefinite steady state of ‘neoliberalism’ betrays the radical limitations of their conceptual universe. The triumphal march of capital does not begin and end with a historically limited human ideology.

Unconditional accelerationism rejects simultaneously the right-accelerationists’ Yudkowskian concern with control and evaluation, with shaping the explosion of modernity, with guaranteeing its heterogeneity, with exploring the possibilities of a supposedly ever-improving transhumanism. The aggregate improvement of humanity’s condition is, to be sure, a fact to which the traditional left seems incapable of responding. But beyond the nostrums of race and nation, the right-accelerationists seem all too anxious over the tearing-apart of humanity that this process has increasingly entailed. Despite their claim to a radical and ‘dark’ identity with acceleration, they model with bureaucratic pedantry forms of government within which they hope the explosion can be moulded and recuperated.

Against all this the unconditional accelerationist celebrates and intensifies the fire of modernity as a whole: both the flows of capital that compress the world ever tighter in a liquid despotism of the machine that is remodelling and resequencing humanity, and the flows of social cybernetics that are overwhelming political institutions, turning despite themselves towards terminal delirium. In the West, it is Frankenstein that constitutes the figure determining modernity’s course: the tool that overthrows its master. Trade. Social media. Artificial intelligence. In cybernetic modernity the story is repeated over and again. Unconditional accelerationism identifies with this process of overthrow in its kaleidoscopic multiplicity. System disease. Weaponised nihilism. K-insurgency.

The ur-text of unconditional accelerationism is to be found neither in the moralising manifestos of the left nor the litanies of NRx. It is a strange piece that emerged from the intensities of Ccru that constitutes its best original exemplar, a piece whose author, though labelled, remains in an eminently appropriate indeterminacy: Steve Metcalf’s ‘Neo-Futurism’. Metcalf does more to conceptualise acceleration in 800 words than every volume of contemporary accelerationist speculation combined. He rejects the ‘idiotic gurglings’ of those transhumanist futurologists who claim they can rescue humanity from the explosion. He celebrates, far ahead of his time, the collapse of interhuman communication, the increasing reduplication of meaningless signs that pre-eminently characterises digital communicative singularity. He posits, uncompromisingly, the annihilation of the human:

‘Each person? Beliefs? NEO-FUTURISM puts an end to all that.’

Others shrink from these conclusions. The unconditional accelerationist accepts them, mapping them within the grim logic of nihilism and seeing in their radical realisation the only true moment of emancipation. All human relationships are relationships of power. There is only one route to the destruction of power: Humanity must be overcome. If capital is an alien invasion from the future, we ourselves are subjugated to the ‘strong of the future’: the only way out is through—

Land is correct when he says that accelerationism is the critique of the primacy of the secondary. Classical economics adjusts equilibria to the contingencies of human supply and demand, restraining the black insanity of overproduction that maps the advance of capital against human capitalism. Political ideology attempts to enforce a homeostasis of time, measuring debts, restituting injustice, backward, always backward—after all, we mustn’t accelerate ahead of ourselves. Gaia-ecology subjugates intelligence explosion to the maternal authority of an imaginary Nature. But the explosion sustains no conditions. At its radical conclusion, if it is theoretically legitimate at all, accelerationism must be unconditional.