Thanks to Alberto Toscano, Ben Noys and Evan Calder Williams for making today's panel on Apocalypse Marxism at the Historical Materialism conference such a success. Parts of the text I used today have appeared here before, but I have pasted below the new bits, the product of some just-in-time theoretical production this morning.
The standard tactic of capitalist realism in relation to eco-apocalypse is to work with the stupid ingenuity of the Symbolic. Here we might think of Lacan’s famous example of Holbein’s Ambassadors. Capitalist realism keeps attention on the ephemeral plenitude of wealth and social status, containing the nullity of ecological catastrophe as an anamorphic blot at the edge of vision. It has the advantage that such an operation is already routinely at the level of individual psychology in respect of death, whose repression no doubt one of the ‘falsities’ that, according to Nietzsche, is necessary for life.
So one tactic is to stop imagining eco-catastrophe and Realise it – which is not to say bring it about, but to act as if it has already happened. This is the intriguing suggestion from Jean-Pierre Dupuy which Zizek takes up, most recently in First As Tragedy, Then As Farce. The only way to prevent the catastrophe, Zizek and Dupuy suggest, is to project ourselves into the post-apocalyptic situation and think what we would have done to have avoided it. In other words, we must act as if what is in fact the case – the inevitability of catastrophe – is the case. The simulation, the as-if, is necessary in part because the Real, here as elsewhere, cannot be confronted directly, and can only emerge in the form of a fiction. The shift to the question of ‘what would we have done’ has the benefit of circumventing the capitalist realist/ postmodernist foreclosure of the old modernist-Leninist question, ‘What is to be done.’ An anti-capitalism need not be imagined any more than the end of the world has to be: it is Realized in the encounter with the fictional-virtual-Real of inevitable apocalypse.
Here we can turn to a rather less august example of fictional apocalypse than either Children Of Men or Atwood’s novels – the much derided Terminator: Salvation. The interest of this latest Terminator film was the reversal of perspective – we are not now in the pre-apocalyptic near future, but in the ruins post-apocalyptic war, after Judgement Day, in which Skynet has achieved sentience and the Terminators stalk the remains of human resistance. The film’s power derives from of its rendering of Earth as a zone fully militarized and desolated by cybernetic war: an artificial inferno built out of dysphoric Black Metal negative eschatology, cargo-culted Christology and numerous other dystopias reprocessed as artificial nightmare. Here, CGI finally codes for CyberGothic
Alongside Blade Runner and Gibson’s Neuromancer, the Terminator films provided some of the fictional resources from which Nick Land constructed his extraordinary fiction-theory texts of the 90s. Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy + Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia remixed to remove all traces of anti-capitalism and spliced with the inorganic velocities and psychedelic cyber-topologies of Jungle. Accelerationism as inorganic anti-inhumanism: unsheathed Capital as implacable, rapacious death drive; Capital with its mask of humanity torn off, machines not as reified instrumental reason, but as a non-instrumental non-reason, the exorbitant anti-teleology of Capital’s purposiveness without final purpose de-terraforming the planet into a techno-Bochsian scorched earth unfit for human habitation. Capital as Real = Death, with the Terminator machine death’s head as the technological upgrade of Holbein’s anamorphic skull - artificial intelligence as artificial death - not now reduced to a cuttlefish smear blotting the Symbolic, but looming to the fore in a landscape in which not only human beings but the Symbolic itself is close to total extinction, as asignifying data transfer obsolesces . The imaginary-Real of Capital as the automatic autocracy of dead labour, dead production performed by that which never lived, its products the agents of death, for which there is no possible consumer.
And, indeed, no-one buys or sells much in Terminator: Salvation, just as Land’s vision of Capital as the triumph of death would seem to anticipate an eventual future in which there are no humans left to exploit. Humans are only an impediment to the full Realization of Capital as machinic-fecund death, and here we are as it were confronting Capital’s own fantasy about itself – that it would be possible to remove all the fetters and achieve a kind of total productive capacity, if only it weren’t for pesky humans. Here, we confront one of the ambiguities of accelarationism: by the sheer totality of its negativity, the triumph of death changes signs and becomes a pure positivity.
Another way in which Land’s work and the Terminator fictional system converge – and here we return to Dupuy and Zizek’s post-apocalypse Now temporality, but seen from a very different perspective - is on the question of time-bending. If Capital=A Death is the anti-climatic terminal of human history, it is only because the inhuman future was capable of acting on the past to potentiate its own coming. As Land puts in “Meltdown”:
This is the circuit in which anti-capitalism must intervene. The war must be fought from and on the desert of the virtual-Real apocalypse. One tactic could be to explode the fantasy of unsheathed productive capacities. This involves taking the anti- of anti-capitalism seriously, as itself the sufficient condition for the emergence of a new political-economic organisation. The embrace of the anti- would become a return of a negativity which late capitalism’s compulsory positivity is compelled to suppress at many levels. What this must also be about is a struggle over libido – Land’s texts are soaked in all the inorganic libido that Atwood’s novels, for instance, can only oppose with pious organicisim. An anti-organic anti-capitalism – what might that look like?
An example of how severe disagreement does not have to be trolling or grey vampirism: Philosophe Sans Oeuvre's response to my and others' exasperation in respect of the G20 protests. Instead of the troll or vampire's quisling retreat from taking a position, PSO very clearly sets out are a set of sincerities and refutable claims. I will respond to the post in the same spirit it was written - with a measure of knockabout sarcasm, but with also a comradely sense that this is not one more empty Web 2.0 'debate'. It is a discussion that urgently needs to happen. The effective opposition to the interpassivity of communicative capitalism is not some totalitarian authoritarianism, but purposive action. Discussion about the form that this purposive action should take is quite different from a 'debate' in which discussion is supposed to have value for its own sake - and of course that discussion is far better had with those who want to do things rather than engage in academic critique.
Nevertheless, I'm a little at a loss as to how PSO or his interloctuor, Paul Reed, answer my problems with the 'G20 Meltdown' since the substantive claims in favour of the protest seem to be unfalsifiable articles of faith: it felt good to be there, any 'activism' is a priori better than theory, we can't yet know what the effects of the protest will be (so if, as seems to be the case, the protests had no political effects whatsoever, don't worry, because it is too soon to tell - and it always will be, presumably...) Then there is the baffling claim that the protests were a success because they cost a lot of money. "The G20 Meltdown was ‘the most expensive protest in British history’, which is a good indication of its real potential: the British government could not afford to have another one like it." I'm not sure what this means - that government finances would collapse if another protest took place? Even if that improbable contingency were to come about, why would that be a good thing? Surely what is more likely is that the government will always find money for policing - and it will find it by taking it from other areas of public spending. I'm sure we can all think of better and more creative uses of public money than it being squandered on police overtime. If the point was to waste as much money as possible and to disrupt people going to work, then it's little surprise that - despite widespread anger about bankers, despite Tomlinson's death - that the media response was not an endorsement of the 'Meltdown', or that the protests failed to break down what Alex Williams has called 'negative solidarity' ('I have to work hard for poor wages, why are they complaining?'). The idea that the protests would have succeeded if it weren't for the pesky media is one of the strangest claims in the PSO post - surely media hostility and circumspection should have been expected and planned for?
Then there is the tired, self-aggrandising opposition between 'activists' and 'theorists' (an opposition being wielded here, as it so often is, by theorists themselves). If Nick, Alex, Reid and myself issued our writings on handbills in the street and organised protests that had no efficacy would we be suddenly elevated into the ranks of the Holy Activists? In point of fact, the only reason that I'm not an 'activist' is that I got 'made redundant' for being one - much of Capitalist Realism comes from my experiences as a Union member and organiser, which, amongst other things, led me to conclude that many forms of activism just haven't caught up with post-Fordism. I'm the last person to think that politics requires vindication from philosophy, or that 'workers' need to be organised 'from above'. What I do think is that 'workers' - whatever that word means now - do need to be organised, and that there must be new thought about what form that organisation might take. (Presumably, by the way, the G20 protests were in fact organised and co-ordinated: the rhetoric of the PSO post would have us believe that they were some direct, spontaneous outflow of the Will of the People - and belief in such spontaneism is itself a theoretical commitment, one of many egregious effects of certain post-68 tendencies in continental philosophy). Thought about organisation - not 'political theory' or 'political philosophy' as some empty academic exercise - is what I've been calling for. It' is a certain kind of 'action' which is the refuge of the beautiful soul now - especially the 'acting' which avoids engagement with institutions or the structure of work.
Well, there is a clear point, if the strategy is a waste of resources, or is counterproductive. Besides, of course, I and everyone else in the 'consensus' happen to have plenty of ideas about new political strategies.
As for the claim that "The folk-psychological reading of the protest is a facile interpretation of a complex event and grossly patronising to those that took part." I would reverse this: the folk-political form of the protest is a facile response to a complex phenonemon (capitalism). I've of course no doubt that many of the protestors have highy sophisticated understandings of capitalism, but that sophistication is not - and cannot be - reflected in the carnival/ protest model of political action. The problem is that there is a slide between the logic of protest and the logic of carnival: if there are no determinate demands, then that is because the point becomes a carnivalesque experience of street clamour. At the same time, the carnival is claimed to be more than a matter of 'feelgood-feelbad' affect because of its protest dimension. Protests certainly can work in particular circumstances. But a protest against capitalism seems designed to fail. Acting as if that is an agent who can meet the ill-defined demands cannot but be a matter of bad faith. Protests are petitions: who are what was this petition aimed at, and who or what could have met its demands? Let's imagine that all of the leaders at the G20 summit agreed to meet the protestors' demands - what would that have involved? My suspicion is that there was any real belief on anyone's part that the protests could have worked, nor was there any clear sense of what working woud even have meant - this isn't a left preparing to take power, but one that, in its heart of hearts, expects protest to follow protest forever, which is why such carnivalesque protest has been the background noise of capitalist realism, tuned out with increasing ease by the managerial and political elites. Beyond this, expectations peter out into fantasy, where the protests trigger a spontaneous revolt which will miraculously self-organise into a whole new society. But let's suppose that everyone in the world spontaneously decides that they don't want to live in capitalism any more. Even then - or rather especially then - the questions of organisation would impose themselves all the more forcefully.
Weight of numbers, and the kind of heterogeneous group that came together at the G20 Meltdown, can certainly be effective in labour disputes or occupations - where they are deployed against a particular point, instead of impotently and vaguely thrown at (a simulacrum of) Capital itself. (And, incidentally, if the point is to build alliances amongst the 'grass-roots anti-capitalist movement', why the gratuitous attacks on the SWP? Mustn't any "political theory which aligns itself on the Left" also "seek to draw on their support"?) There's surely a massive difference between the 'one day out of life' logic of G20 Meltdown and factory or university occupations. These latter involve both determinate demands and something more - the possibility of sustainable antagonisms, which can develop in the institutions where people actually work, as well as the 'practical sufficiency' of a collective will which demonstrates that it can organise work or education itself, without the need for the overpaid managers and executives.
One of many things that's haunted me from Andy Beckett's When The Lights Went Out is the account of the Grunwick dispute. Not so much the familar account of the struggles in front of the factory gates, as what the right did to break the strike behind the scenes - the so-called Pony Express operation that they organised to circumvent the postal blockade:
I think this story shows many things: that the triumph of neoliberalism wasn't some inevitable law of History or Capital; that it happened not because of wealth alone, but because wealth was used as a resource to fund organisational strategies; that such such stragegies were often ingenious and experimental; that the activities themselves - buying and licking thousands of stamps, posting thousands of letters - were very far from being carnivalesque or enjoyable but that performing them produced a sense of euphoria. (One is tempted to say that the G20 melancholy carnival was the exact opposite of this: an ostensibly enjoyable party in the street that ended up as a boring and demoralising kettle, producing dysphoria in the bad sense, as Alex suggested.) Compare the hundreds of thousands on the street in the anti-capitalist protests of the last decade with what those 250 volunteers achieved. By helping to break the Grunwick strike, they did more than end one particular labour dispute - as with the defeat of the Miners Strike later, the Grunwick strikebreaking also functioned at the memetic and Symbolic level, preparing the way for capitalist realism. Pursuing winnable, determinate goals engenders a sense that winning is possible, which further reinforces the sense of conviction necessary for victory: a hyperstitional circuit. It's this kind of circuit that left activism needs.
There will be some proper content up here soon, I promise... but this is just a reminder that there will be a reading and discussion of Capitalist Realism in Brighton tomorrow evening... I hope to see some of you there...
19:30 - 21:30
Call for Participation:
"Bigger than Words, Wider than Pictures": Noise, Affect, Politics
University of Salford and Islington Mill, July 1-3 2010
Dr Michael Goddard, Dr Benjamin Halligan and Professor David Sanjek
"If there are people that are dumb enough to use Metallica to interrogate prisoners, you're forgetting about all the music that's to the left of us. I can name 30 Norwegian death metal bands that would make Metallica sound like Simon and Garfunkel." - Lars Ulrich
"... this music can put a human being in a trance like state and deprive it of the sneaking feeling of existing, 'cos music is bigger than words and wider than pictures... if the stars had a sound it would sound like this." - Mogwai, "Yes! I Am a Long Way from Home"
Noise Annoys. Is it not a banal fact of modern, urban existence that one person's preferred sonic environment is another's irritating, unwelcome noise - whether in the high-rise apartment, on public transport or the street, or almost anywhere else? The contingent soundscape of jack-hammers and pneumatic drills, mobile phone chatter, car sirens and alarms, sound leakage from nightclubs and bars and - moving into the suburbs - lawn-mowers and amateur renovation projects, neighbouring kids and dogs, represents a near-constant aural assault. As a pollutant, noise can legally attain noxious levels; it is both potentially biologically harmful and psychologically detrimental.
But what exactly is noise and what conditions these relative thresholds in which sound crosses over into noise? Or are these more organised and polite sonic phenomena merely varieties of noise that have been tamed and civilised, and yet still contain kernels of the chaotic, anomalous disturbance of primordial noise? As a radical free agent, how is noise channelled, neutralised or enhanced in emergent cityscapes? As a consumable, how is noise - or lack of noise - commodified?
Such questions are particularly applicable to contemporary forms of music which, based as they are on a variety of noise-making technical machines, necessarily exist in the interface between chaotic, unpredictable noise and the organised and blended sounds of music and speech. Does modern noise seek to lead us to new, post-secular inscapes (as with psychedelia and shoegazer), or defy the lulling noisescapes of processed background muzak with punitive blasts of disorientating, disorderly noise? And why the cult of noise - in term of both volume and dissonance - in which low cultural practices (metal, moshing) meet those of the avant-garde (atonalism, transcendentalism)?
This conference seeks to address the contemporary phenomenon of noise in all its dimensions: cultural, political, territorial, philosophical, physiological, subversive and military, and as anomalous to sound, speech, musicality and information. Possible topics include but are not limited to:
* Psychedelic and Neo-Psychedelic Musics
* Punk and Post-Punk Musics
* Experimental Musics from Avant-Classical to Digital Noise / Raw Data
* Industrial Musics and Cultures
* Krautrock and German Noise
* Shoegazer, Nu-Gaze and Post-Rock
* Noise as Cultural Anomaly
* Noise, Chaos and Order
* Noise and architectural planning
* Noise and digital compression
* Noise Scenes from No Wave to Japan-Noise
* Noise and electronic music pioneers (Delia Derbyshire, Varèse, Stockhausen)
* Noise and Territory
* Sonic Warfare
* Noise and Urban Environments / "Noise pollution"
* Noise and Subjectivation
* Sonic Ecologies
* "White Noise"
* Noise and Political Subversion
* Noise and hearing impairment / deafness
* Psychic / silent noise
* Noise and mixing, particularly in nightclub environments
* Noise in Cinema, Video and Sound Art
* Noise, Appropriation and Recombination
* Noise and Affect
The conference will be organised by the Centre for Communication, Cultural and Media Studies at the University of Salford in cooperation with Islington Mill, Salford and will take place from the 1-3rd of July and will include both an academic conference and noise gigs featuring amongst other groups, The Telescopes and Factory Star and other special guests tbc. Confirmed keynote speakers include rock historian Clinton Heylin, author of From the Velvets to the Voidoids and numerous other works on (post)punk and popular music, Stephen Lawrie of The Telescopes, and Paul Hegarty, author of the recent Noise/Music.
In addition to conventional papers, noise, sound and video art proposals are also welcome.
To participate in the conference please send a 400 word abstract and biographical note to Michael Goddard, email@example.com and Benjamin Halligan, firstname.lastname@example.org by 28 February 2010.
Another World is Necessary: Crisis, Struggle and Political Alternatives
27 - 29 November 2009
Birkbeck College and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Thornhaugh Street, London XC1H OXG
REGISTER NOW at: http://mercury.soas.ac.uk/hm/conference2009.htm
REGISTRATION CLOSES 24 NOVEMBER
CONFERENCE PROGRAMME now available at:
Speakers include: Gilbert Achcar * Robert Albritton * Kevin Anderson *
Jairus Banaji * Wendy Brown * Alex Callinicos * Vivek Chibber * Hester
Eisenstein * Ben Fine * Ferruccio Gambino * Lindsey German * Peter
Hallward * John Holloway * Fredric Jameson * Bob Jessop * David
McNally * China Mieville * Kim Moody * Leo Panitch * Moishe Postone *
Sheila Rowbotham * Julian Stallabrass * Hillel Ticktin * Kees Van Der Pijl *
Panels include: APOCALYPSE MARXISM * ART AGAINST CAPITALISM *
CLASS AND POLITICS IN THE 'GLOBAL SOUTH' * COGNITIVE MAPPING,
TOTALITY AND THE REALIST TURN * COMMODIFYING HEALTH CARE
IN THE UK * CUBAN REVOLUTION AND CUBAN SOCIETY * DERIVATIVES *
DIMENSIONS OF THE FOOD CRISIS * ECOLOGICAL CRISIS * EMPIRE
AND IMPERIALISM * ENERGY, WASTE AND CAPITALISM * FINANCE,
THE HOUSING QUESTION AND URBAN POLITICS * GLOBAL LAW AND
HUMAN RIGHTS * GRAMSCI RELOADED * INTERPRETATIONS OF THE
CRISIS * LABOUR BEYOND THE FACTORY * LATIN AMERICAN WORKING
CLASSES * LINEAGES OF NEOLIBERALISM * MARXISM AND POLITICAL
VIOLENCE * MIGRATION * PHILOSOPHY AND COMMUNISM IN THE
EARLY MARX * POSTNEOLIBERALISM * RACE, NATION AND ORIENTALISM *
RED PLANETS: MARXISM AND SCIENCE FICTION * REMEMBERING
PETER GOWAN AND CHRIS HARMAN * REVOLUTIONARY THEORY,
AUTONOMIST MARXISM AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY *
SLAVERY AND CAPITALISM IN THE US SOUTH * STUDENT MOVEMENTS
AND YOUTH REVOLTS * THE CRITIQUE OF RELIGION AND THE CRITIQUE
OF CAPITALISM * UTOPIAS, DYSTOPIAS AND SOCIALIST BIOPOLITICS
Sunday, 15 November Calling Out Of Context at the ICA
Mark Fisher (aka influential music blogger k-punk), considers the passivity of listening and discusses the possibilities for collective, intimate and fresh ways of hearing. This event inaugurates the Deep Listening Club, marked by the playback of Glenn Gould’s 1969 work The Latecomers.
Thursday, 26 November Reading and discussion of Capitalist Realism
19:30 - 21:30
Saturday, 28 November, 2.45-4.30, Apocalypse Marxism at Historical Materialism conference
Chair: Alberto Toscano
Benjamin Noys - Apocalyptic Tones and Accelerating Crisis
Evan Calder Williams - Combined and Uneven Apocalypse
Mark Fisher – Post-Apocalypse Now