October 28, 2008

Spectres Of Accelerationism

Two more stimulating posts from Splintering Bone Ashes, indicating that the cracking pace that Alex has set shows no signs of letting up. Here are some quick responses...

To take the hauntology one first... I think the difference here lies in our different ideas of the status and purpose of hauntology. For me, hauntology is best conceived of not as some political aspiration, but rather as a zeitgeist, something which is already in place and which demands critical commentary (and extrapolative extension). Hauntology is not something that is aimed towards, so much as where we are starting from (the End of History and its escape). Hauntological theory is an attempt, for instance, to account for why the Burial records have captured a mood, a malaise, this decade. The claim is not that hauntology is ultimately preferable to some accelerationist model of culture (although the Burial records are in many respects actually superior to the accelerationist Jungle they spectralise). On the contrary, one of the things that you can hear in hauntology is the spectres of accelerationism itself. To turn Alex's question about the political correlate of hauntology around - what is the cultural equivalent of accelerationism now? It was precisely the lack of any cultural exemplars of accelerationism that led to spectrality in the first place. The paradoxes that Alex refers to are not a problem for hauntology; or rather, the problems they indicate are constitutive of a hauntological moment which makes the only resistance to the nostalgia mode look like a nostalgia for modernism. Hauntology is not, therefore, opposed to accelerationism; rather, it is the only way, at the moment, that culture makes any kind of contact with it. Neither is there any opposition between "the return of modernism" that Alex decries and "the arrival of a new (perhaps, or at the very least) a currently properly unthinkable temporo-cultural episteme" which he calls for. What is modernism if not that which generates a "properly unthinkable temporo-cultural episteme"? Modernism (and Badiou's theory of the event has been characterised as a late arriving philosophy of/ for modernism) can return as a recirculated obsolete style, but it cannot 'return' as the unthinkably novel without puncturing a hole in postmodernity. Certainly, the issue is how can we bring about a break of this sort, which returns us to the question of agency, the central issue in Alex's other new post.

If the problem with hauntology is its association with a defeated (and defeatist) leftism, the problem with accelerationism now might be that it has no political correlate at all. This might be because "left Landianism" risks being an impossible confection. Landianism staked everything on the obsolescence of human agency: Capital was the only agent worth the name, so any human attempts to intervene in the process of planetary meltdown would necessarily be futile and irrelevant. Since politics was tied up with (human) agency, the 'political' itself was defined by forms of prohibition and resistance to Capital's "horrifying and utter negativity" (it was a case of an insipid, security-orientated anthropomorphic negativity trying to contain the sublime, unqualified, inhuman negativity of Capital). But what would it mean to reconfigure this picture so that human agency played a role? Would this make any sense at all? Alex comes up with a striking image:

    The irresistible inverse image of 9/11 presents itself: Instead of flying the planes into symbols of western capitalism, we plunge the financial-capitalistic contents of the towers into the human world itself, dissolving, sundering, shattering…

(I can't help hearing this as a mirror image of Virilo's recent claim that, rather than capitalism nearing its end, "the end is nearing capitalism".)

But who is the pilot in this analogy (or anticipative diagram)? The question of what a party of inhuman negativity would look like requires further elaboration, to say the least. (For more on this, see Plamonenology's very useful post.)

Nick Land needs to be counted as a speculative realist theorist, if only because he provided a version of Deleuze and Guattari evacuated of any "pseudo-biological vitalist ethology" (but also because Metzinger's account of identity as a systemic illusion generated from cybernetic feedback sounds like a detailed elaboration of concepts sketched in texts such as "Meltdown" and "No Future"). Behind all these discussions, of course, is the issue of speculative realism's relationship to politics, if any. (See Speculative Heresy's call for debate on this.) Is there a way of commensurating the necessarily human focus of the political with the nonhuman perspective opened up by SR that will not betray or compromise its fundamental insights?

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October 23, 2008

From Descartes to Cotard: I think that I don't exist


Following the discussion of Cotard's Syndrome on English Heretic earlier this year (mentioned here), there's a fascinating essay by Thomas Metzinger ("Why Are Identity Disorders Interesting To Philosophers?") which considers the implications for the philosophy of mind of conditions such as Cotard's.

    Obviously, any good future philosophical theory of mind should be able to incorporate the “existence denial” exhibited by Cotard subjects as an important phenomenological constraint, one to be satisfied by its own conceptual proposals. There exists a whole range of neurological disorders characterized by an unawareness of specific deficits following brain injuries, all of them falsifying the Cartesian notion of epistemic transparency for phenomenal self-consciousness, i.e. the idea that one cannot be wrong about the contents of one’s own mind, that unnoticed errors are impossible because the light of knowledge shines through and through the self. In pure and extreme versions of the Cotard delusion we are confronted with a particularly interesting example of this type of representational configuration: Patients may explicitly state not only that they are dead, but also that they don’t exist at all. In other words, something that seems an a priori impossibility on logical grounds – a conscious subject truthfully denying its own existence – turns out to be a phenomenological reality. And phenomenology has to be taken serious. In this case the first lesson to be drawn is this: You can be fully conscious and still truthfully describe the content of your own phenomenal self-experience as “non-existence”. In other words, there are actual, nomologically possible representational configurations in the human brain, which lead truthful subjects into logically incoherent autophenomenological reports.

He continues:

    Claiming to be dead – in terms of a dead body - is not the same as claiming to be non-existent. As Enoch and Trethowan write:
      Subsequently the subject may proceed to deny her very existence, even dispensing altogether with the use of the personal pronoun ‘I’. One patient even called herself ‘Madam Zero’ in order to emphasize her non-existence. One of Anderson’s patients said, referring to herself, ‘It’s no use. Wrap it up and throw “it” in the dustbin’
    If the delusion becomes completely encapsulated, the subject may even be able to assume a jovial mood and to engage in a philosophical discussion about her own existence or non-existence. (Enoch and Trethowan 1991, p. 173; 175)

Metzinger compares Cotard's with mystical experiences of depersonalisation ("the only other phenomenal state-class in which speakers sometimes consistently refer to themselves without using the pronoun ‘I’"). These are the ecstatic parallel to Le Délire de Négation's destitution. (Perhaps there is a parallel between this 'delirum of negation' and the 'generic misanthropy' Dominic has written of.)

What's interesting to Metzinger, of course, is not so much the extreme psychotic states per se, but what they tell us about the way in which an 'ordinary' sense of personal identity is constituted. For Metzinger, the statement of the Cotard's sufferer "I don't exist" is not only possible, it is true. His neurophenomenology dethrones the idea that personal identity is any kind of substance or thing. Instead, it is a process which misrecongises itself as a thing. This is by no means the same as the standard, kitsch-Nietzschean notion that the self is a process, because, for Metzinger, the self only exists at the level of false appearances; it is the way that the process (mis)represents itself to itself. What happens is a reification of reflexivity - we move from certain patterns of self-modeling to the self, or, in even shorter hand, from self- to self. (For a detailed precis of Metzinger's Being No-One by the author himself, go here; for a discussion of Metzinger and Kant, see Speculative Heresy.)

James Trafford has written of the congruence of Metzinger's demolition of the self and the work of Ligotti, in particular the moment of dread revelation in Ligotti's stories when individuals come to recognise themselves as marionettes without a master. But I think that there's a broader affinity between Metzinger's anti-phenomenology and the Weird. Like Freud and Lacan but in a different register, one of Metzinger's achievements might be to have rendered personal identity as something inherently weird, in which the seeming depth of the self unravels into a Moebian surface, or a paradoxical, self-generating geometry worthy of Escher.

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"Frankensteinian surgeon of the cities"

Ben with more on acclerationism... He's right to nominate the Lyotard of Libidinal Economy as the principal champion of accelerationist capital. Libidinal Economy might itself be characterised as an acceleration of Deleuze and Guattari. It was Lyotard's diabolical, scandalous book, and his whole subsequent career could be construed as a retreat from its incendiary jouissance, an attempt at pious recantation (or re-Kantation, perhaps - for a discussion of which, see Iain Hamilton Grant's introduction to his own translation). Libidinal Economy described capital as a "Frankensteinian surgeon of the cities", the cybergothic lab from which a modernist proletariat would grow, a constructivist proletariat whose heroism consisted in its capacity to machine a new inorganic body for itself, capable of not only enduring but enjoying the inhuman conditions of the factory; an amnesiac proletariat that, absolutely devoid of nostalgia for the earthy cyclicity of peasant life, enjoyed its anonymous pubs, concrete arcades, and synthetic foods.

Yet, in the end, it is was Deleuze and Guattari who proved to have the better handle on capitalism, precisely because they insisted on reterritorialization as the necessary counterpart of capitalist deterritorialization. D/G anticipated the postmodern condition, not the informatic model proffered by the later, insouciant, "mature" Lyotard, but the impasse described by Jameson: capitalism as a future shock absorber as well as a scorched earth terminator of all traditions and archaisms, operating in a time of anachronistic conjunctions (genetic engineering labs next to lovingly reconstructed nineteenth century village greens). The Frankensteinian surgeon of the cities would eventually disguise its hideous suturings and improbable juxtapositions behind all manner of airbrushings and recyclings.

Which brings us back to the question of hauntology. There's no a priori claim that nothing could happen. Rather, there's an empirical claim that nothing is happening. I defy anyone to gainsay this, to provide examples of culture (popular or otherwise) hurtling forward, and I'll be the first to give up the ghost. The sense that that nothing could ever happen (and, by depressive extension, the mordant conviction that nothing ever happened) are more affective responses to this inertia than actual prognoses. In other words, one of my problem with Alex's post was that it too hastily conflated hauntology with postmodernism (whereas Alex's claim was, precisely, that hauntology is too close to postmodernism). Postmodernism is, of course, the dead end from which hauntology starts - but one of its role is to denaturalise what postmodernism has taken for granted, to conceive of postmodernism as a condition in the sense of a sickness.

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Back To The Future


You're bound to disagree with my picks, but here's my stab at 20 Best Jungle for Fact.

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October 22, 2008

October 21, 2008

Maximum acceleration

The real of the financial crisis is real estate, according to Badiou:

    "[T]his only seems to be a zero-sum game: the speculator loses his wager and the buyers their homes, from which they are politely evicted. But the real of this zero-sum game is as always on the side of the collective, of ordinary life: in the end, everything stems from the fact that there exist millions of people whose wages, or absence thereof, means that they are absolutely unable to house themselves. The real essence of the financial crisis is a housing crisis. And those who can’t find a home are by no means the bankers."

if the current crisis proves anything it's that, although trickledown of wealth in a boom is an utterly discredited theory, there is nevertheless a cascading down of ill fortune in a downturn.


Owen has now weighed in on accelerationism. A few further thoughts of my own: part of the problem with Splitting Bone Ashes' argument as I see it is the assumption that the state inhibits acceleration. It would be better to say that the state is one for the conditions for capitalist acceleration. As the current crisis establishes, without the state, capitalism wouldn't reach escape velocity, it would disintegrate, more likely retrenching into what Andrew Kliman on the Marx And The Financial Crisis of 2008 blog calls "chaos or fascism or warlordism" than dissolving into some post-capitalist inhuman network. By inhibiting capitalism, the state enables it to go as fast as is (inhumanly) possible.

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October 20, 2008

Nihilism without negativity

(Some still forming thoughts on Xenoeonomics and accelerationism...)

Splintering Bone Ashes' case for an accelerationist capitalism constitutes something like a left Landianism. Libidinal Economy may be, as Leniency says, "the book of accelerationism", but Lyotard was then openly intoxicated with/ by Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus; and Nick Land's 90s texts emerged under the euphoric, inhumanist influence of both. This was a kind of nihilism without negativity; the only interdiction was on the negative, in all its senses: the 'No' of a sclerotic leftism characterised (or caricatured) as eternally resisting and repressing and the miserabilism of all the parties of depressive deceleration were to be abjured in favour of the unleashed full positivity of Capital as monstrous ex nihilo propagator without limit. The vast, sublime mechanism of Capital as planetary artificial intelligence would liquidate (the illusion) of human agency: you either submit and enjoy or act out the dead drama of your own impotence.

Splintering Bone Ashes' Alex describes his leftist spin on this as follows:

    The “blind acephelous polymorph” that is capital must be embraced, but not from the point of view of some naïve enthusiasm or sentiment of hope that markets can deliver utopia. Instead, as the way out of the binaries of a leftism which is utterly and irretrievably moribund, and a neo-liberal economics which is ideologically bankrupt, we must bend both together in the face of an inhuman and indefatigable capitalism, to think how we might inculcate a new form of radically inhuman subjectivation. This entails the retrieval of the communist project for a new man, AND the liberation of the neo-liberal quest for a capitalism unbound, from both its subterranean dependence upon the state and the skeletal humanist discursive a priori which animates its ideological forms.

Three questions immediately occur.

1. Is this pure Capital, a Capital without human qualification, an unbound Capital without a human face, anything more than a fantasy (the fantasy of Capital itself, perhaps)? Isn't Capital, rather, essentially constituted by the tension between dissolution-without-limits and inhibition (I believe that the importance of Deleuze and Guattari's analysis lies precisely in claiming just that.) But this might be the point: if the fetters and buffers were removed, we would no longer be dealing with capitalism at all (further: it is the fetters and buffers which precisely stop capitalism from mutating into something new and inhuman).

2. The problem of agency. Let's suppose that such a Thing could emerge from the husk of late capitalism. One major difference between SBA's accelerationism and Landianism is over the question of agency: for Landianism, Capital is the only agent of note, whereas for SBA, Capital must be assisted to become something else. But what form would this assistance take? As per Tronti's question about the left after the demise of the workers' movements, what group subject could emerge which would be both willing and able to offer it? In the lack of a collective agent, wouldn't we be back to a kind of theoretical parlour game that has no consequences?

3. How is it possible 'to utilise the stuctures of capitalism against the state' in a way that does not repeat neoliberalism?

Given his scepticism about hauntology, it would be too cheap a rhetorical strategy to adopt to suggest that there's a way in which SBA's accelerationism could itself be a trace (a reinvocation of certain 70s and 90s inhuman forces turned spectres). In any case, hauntology is not, at least not as far as I am concerned, a political strategy, nor does it preclude other stances or tactics. It is about responding to what is there - or about what absently insists in what is there. It is best conceived of as a symptomatology, cultural rather than political (where culture is very much read, naturally, as a political-economic effect). Alex is therefore right to characterise hauntology as a kind of "good" postmodernism - the cultural logic of capitalism turned against itself. In cultural terms, sadly, is has been the case that a terminus, perhaps temporarily, has been reached - "that there is nothing else, (at this moment in time at least) that nothing else is possible". Much as I wish it weren't the case, it isn't possible to bring back modernism by force of will alone.

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October 15, 2008

"Public money hurled at the face of capitalism"

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, with a salutary message for those hailing the death of capitalism:

    The banks have not been "nationalised", just deluged with money. They remain pluralist and competitive institutions, with independent boards. Their workers are not civil servants. Investors retain their shares. The bonus culture will revive. The impresarios of greed have been punished, or at least a few of them. But this is not socialism in our time, just public money hurled at the face of capitalism.

    ... For the record, exactly the same gloating was heard after the crash of 1987. It too "spelled the death of market economics".

Meanwhile, Steve Shaviro responds to my scepticism about too quickly assuming that the recession will close down the possibilities for radical change. At the risk of repeating myself, the problem is obvious: the boom manifestly did not lead to a growth of radicalism, but if the prospects are worse under a recession, then when could anything ever happen? It might well be the case that downturn obstructs radicalisation, but we've just lived through a period that has definitively proven that there is (at the least) no necessary link between abundance and revolt. My own sense is that the kind of abundance we've just experienced led to a widespread feeling that there was too much to lose. What will happen when the security blanket is removed?

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October 14, 2008

Faith, hope and capitalism

Some interesting responses to my post on positive thinking, neoliberalism and CBT.

During the course of a post that's well worth reading in its entirety, Ktismatics observes:

    The economic threat posed by letting psychological symptoms speak is that the symptoms will direct people’s attention not deep inside themselves but outside, to socioeconomic conditions that provoke depression, anxiety, rage and alienation as natural reactions to sick situations. It turns out that the same psychotherapeutic techniques work equally for all these conditions. It also turns out that the same mood-enhancing medications are prescribed for all of them. Leader regards this convergence as evidence that diagnosis isn’t all that important, that the same underlying intrapsychic condition can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms. But couldn’t the same conclusion be drawn if you listen outside the self for causes? Workplace stress, alienation from coworkers and customers, exploitation by management and capital; the pressure to compete as worker and consumer; the nearly universal demand for presenting a facade of relentless optimism, as k-punk cogently observes; the expectation that you can buy your way into happiness; isolation from others in the community and even from one’s most intimate friends — aren’t these ongoing external sources of unhappiness at least as likely to cause symptoms as are traumata experienced long ago in infancy?

Meanwhile, Mark Thwaite at Ready Steady Book writes:

    That the global economy is in such tatters because of a lack of "confidence", a lack of faith in other words, is astonishing proof of the validity of Marx's theory of reification, but beyond that shows that a profound irrationality sits at the heart of the global social system. A social system that claims it can never be bettered or changed or destroyed is, it clearly turns out, based almost entirely on our faith in it! The astonishing amount of energy -- and money -- being mobilised by governments, politicians and journalists to try to keep us keeping the faith shows clearly that it is time for us all to dream again of better worlds.

But if Steve Shaviro and No Useless Leniency are to be believed, then that's the last thing we can expect to happen. Both cite Gilbert Achcar's claim that recession impedes radicalism, and his hope that "that the new period of economic growth is consolidated so that the new wave of radicalisation which appears to be taking shape is strengthened." I wouldn't like to speculate on the likely political effects of the upcoming downturn, but I would suggest that Anchar's arguments ought to be treated with a measure of scepticism, since his claims about the possible radicalising effects of the boom were certainly wrong. "The new period of economic growth" was consolidated, to the point where it was one of the longest booms in history, but, far from feeding a growth of radicalism, this produced an atmosphere of unprecedented political and cultural conservatism: the "end of history" which Anchar attacks Perry Anderson for invoking. Look at how quaint Anchar's fin-de-millennium hopes look now:

    Are the recent demonstrations against the neo-liberal order in Seattle and Washington, the movements around demands in the world of American labour over the last two years, or even the campaign around Ken Livingstone in London signs of a reversal in mood, the first fruits of a new wave of radicalisation, which could change the intellectual climate in the English speaking world? One can legitimately hope this is so without sowing illusions.
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October 10, 2008

Methods Of Dreaming


Two novels that – purely by coincidence, or so it would seem – I happened to read one after the other which both draw on dreaming, but which emphasise opposite poles of the dreaming experience.

Christopher Priest's A Dream Of Wessex (1977) is about a collective dreaming project, a government-sponsored initiative to tap the unconscious in order to come up with solutions to the economic and political problems that have paralysed the society in the novel's present day of 1985 . In the projected future world, the USA has converted to Islam and the UK has been annexed by the Soviet Union. The result is a strange kind of utopia, in which the bureaucratic provides a background to the bucolic: the irritations of the Soviet official machinery seem built into the dreamspace as a necessary precondition for the aching languor of the Wessex idyll, where everyday life is suffused by a Mediterranean eroticism. Priest conjures the atmosphere of a gentle solar trance, broken, significantly, by small circular mirrors, which are used to trigger the dreamer's return to the dismal drizzle of the novel's real world.

Once inside the Wessex projection, the participants cannot remember their real world identities. This means that, although they are referred to by the same name, the dreamers in the simulation are different entities from their real world counterparts (just as any dreamer is a different being from their double in waking life). A classic case of the Real (of unconscious wishes) versus reality. When they exit the Wessex simulation, the dreamers are replaced in the consensual hallucination by placeholder doppelgangers, programmed selves that, poossessing no inner life, only exist for the Others in the dreamspace. Some of the participants come to recognise the points at which other dreamers depart from the simulation and come back to it: something in the other, that which is in them more than themselves perhaps, disappears or (seemingly miraculously) returns. What the novel renders especially powerfully is the overwhelming, intoxicating intensity of erotic connections with a dream Other, the uncanny sense of recognition, the deja vu of dreamlove. In the case of A Dream Of Wessex, the sense of recognition between the lovers can be accounted for by the fact that the two, Julia and David, know each in the novel's real world; and yet Julia and David are not in love in the real world, nor is there any suggestion that they would necessarily fall in love. It is their dream-selves that fall for each other. What ultimately unsettles the idyll is the kind of reality bleed or ontological haemorrhage which Priest's later novels all turn around. A Dream Of Wessex looks forward to Gibson's cyberspace, but it is also a vision of the 60s recalled at the bitter end of the 70s.


Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled (1995) makes contact with another kind of dream space-time altogether. The novel is well-titled since it plunges us, like Alice projected into Wonderland, into a world without consolation, a world of unrelieved urgencies. This is the first and most obvious point of contrast with A Dream Of Wessex, where the official imperatives, both inside and outside the dreamspace, operate as receding pretexts for libidinal trajectories which depart from 'what should be happening' (this tendency puts the whole project at risk). In The Unconsoled, the official, too recedes, but assumes now not the benign quality of the libidinal pretext (the ostensible goal which allows jouissance to happen precisely by being endlessly missed) but the tortuous, tantalising, thwarted object whose failure to be attained casts a pall of terrible anxiety over everything.

Upon arriving in a nameless central European city to give a performance, the renowned pianist Ryder finds himself assailed by countless demands which distract him from his official duties, but which he seems powerless to resist. He must listen to young hopefuls playing the piano; he must speak to late-night meetings of which he was not previously aware; he must go to the outskirts of the city and be photographed in front of a monument whose significance he does not understand. New urgencies are embedded within older urgencies, endlessly.

The Unconsoled is, in part, a pastiche of Kafka, and what Ishiguro borrows from Kafka above all else is his oneiric geography, at once bizarre and strangely familiar. Spaces which had seemed to be very far from another are suddenly revealed to be adjacent; a meeting hall which Ryder has traveled to turns out to be the very hotel that he started from. This allows problems which had seemed intractable to suddenly resolve themselves; yet the solutions bring no relief, for by now Ryder has been gripped by another urgency. The previous imperative, once so overwhelmingly important, recedes into irrelevance at the moment the next one arrives.

In The Unconsoled, as in Kafka, this perverse spatiality of contiguity without consistency arises because all space (and time) is subordinated to the urgency. There is no time except that of the urgency; and all space is curved by the urgency (and its frustrations). Obstacles suddenly emerge: most notably a wall that inexplicably looms up at the last moment preventing Ryder from getting to the concert hall where he is due to give his recital. The hectic pace is driven by the improvisational logic of retrospective confabulation, which is always making sense of things a moment too late. Ryder is perpetually noticing things that should have been obvious. As with Kafka, then, The Unconsoled is coloured by an ingenue's sense of embarrassment.

Two opposed methods of dreaming, then: the one languid, laconic, the other harried, harassed.

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