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.

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