Unconditional accelerationism as antipraxis


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.