Accelerate

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* Book: Accelerate. The Accelerationist Reader. Editors: Robin Mackay, Armen Avanessian. Urbanomic, 2014

URL = http://www.urbanomic.com/pub_accelerate.php

Description

"Accelerationism is the name of a contemporary political heresy: the insistence that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, critique, or détourne it, but to accelerate and exacerbate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendencies.

The term was coined to designate a certain nihilistic alignment of theory with the excess and abandon of capitalist culture, and the associated performative aesthetic of texts that seek to become immanent to the very process of alienation. Developing at the dawn of contemporary neoliberal consensus, the uneasy status of this impulse, between subversion and acquiescence, between theoretical purchase and aesthetic enjoyment, constitutes the core problematic of accelerationism.

Since the 2013 publication of Williams's and Srnicek's #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics, the term has been adopted to name a set of new theoretical enterprises that aim to conceptualise non-capitalist futures outside of traditional marxist critiques and regressive, decelerative or restorative solutions.

ACCELERATE presents a genealogy of accelerationism, tracking the impulse through 90s UK darkside cyberculture and the theory-fictions of Nick Land, Sadie Plant, Iain Grant, and anonymous units like CCRU and SWITCH, across the cultural underground of the 80s (rave, acid house, Terminator and Bladerunner) and back to its sources in delirious post-68 ferment, in texts whose searing nihilistic jouissance would later be disavowed by their authors and the marxist and academic establishment alike.

On either side of this largely unexplored central sequence, the book includes texts by Marx that call attention to his own 'Prometheanism' and key works from recent years document the recent extraordinary emergence of new accelerationisms steeled against the onslaughts of neoliberal capitalist realism, and retooled for the twenty-first century.

At the forefront of the energetic contemporary debate around this disputed, problematic term, #ACCELERATE activates a historical conversation about futurality, technology, politics, enjoyment and Kapital. This is a legacy shot through with contradictions, yet urgently galvanized today by the poverty of 'reasonable' contemporary political alternatives."

Discussion

McKenzie Wark:

"Thinking futures for natureculture is even more a problem, given the general collapse of any theory of history that might be synthetic and empirically grounded. When even supposedly Hegelian thinkers such as Zizek start dancing around the bonfire of ‘apocalypse’ then we’re really up a dead end.

I had hoped that the accelerationists would come to our aid here. The publication of the #Accelerate anthology however shows both the potential but also the flaws in the attempt to reboot the theory of history by thinkers gathered under this banner.

There are some excellent texts in this anthology. (Those by Luciana Parisi and Benedict Singleton are for me the stand-outs). But there is also far too much that is more retro than accelerating, indeed may be accelerating thought backwards toward outmoded ways of working.

There is a general tendency to take the current moment of more-or-less openly acknowledged slow-motion crisis as an excuse to double-down on very old fashioned modes of thinking.

The most common form of this reactionary response is religious fundamentalism, with its denial of science and insistence on scripture. A rather more high-minded version of exactly the same thing is philosophical fundamentalism, with its rather comic attempt to think the world through the repetition of the reading of its own canon of scriptures. The #Accelerate anthology contains its own old testament, including some supposedly ‘heretical’ texts. But there is no doubting the orthodoxy of the kinds of reading practices of such texts the book promotes.

A fine example of this would be the very first text of its old testament: Marx’s, ‘Fragment on Machines’, of 1858. In typical traditional fashion, in #Accelerate this founding text is either (a) ignored, as if it were just enough to reprint it. Or (b) treated as holy writ. No actual engagement with it takes place throughout the whole book! We can discover quite a bit of what is unthought – even unthinkable – in accelerationist discourse simply by opening this famous text up and reading it. This will help with understanding a later moment in the anthology, where the rather provincial world of English accelerationist writing tries to make common-cause with Italian autonomists, for whom this Marx text is quite central. But we quickly discover that what these two tendencies are aligned in is precisely there errors of judgment. (The Negri text in this book is particularly unfortunate).

Marx’s interest in this fragmentary text is in the passage from the use of simple tools to machine systems. In other words he is trying to grasp the advanced industry of his day, which is to say the backward industry of our own times. He starts with a phenomena in the world – machine systems – and brings thought to it. This is of course the opposite of how Marx is now usually read: starting with his thought, in the form of texts like this one, and interpreting the phenomena through the text.

If one understands the difference between these two approaches, it is not hard to see how the now more common one results in the discourse of eternal capital, which is where most ‘Marxists’ seem to want to reside today. Marx is taken as revealing a deep philosophical essence of capital through the study of its historical and phenomenal forms. In this approach, it is admitted that capital is historical only to the extent that it may take on new historical forms, but its essence remains eternal and unchanging.

In this traditionalist, old testament Marxism, this eternal form then awaits its negation by that which is in-and-against it, labor. Among more Spinozist forms of Marxism, of which accelerationism is one flavor, there is no force of negation. Rather, the continual transformation of its appearances leads in the end to a qualitative change in its essence – in the end.

But there is a tension in this mode of thinking. It wants to hang on to some way of using the category of eternal capital. It does not quite want to admit that if capital is indeed continually mutating and self-modifying, then it has no essence, and ‘appearances’ need to be taken seriously as not mere phenomenal forms but as actual forms in the world. In short: there can be no ‘Marxism’ as a philosophy produced by means of philosophy, which takes the essence of capital as its subject. The modifications in so-called phenomenal forms need to be understood as more than mere phenomena, and that requires a more modest approach to the forms of knowledge of those modifications.

In short, Marxism could only be a collaborative practice of knowledge among different but equal ways of knowing, where philosophy is not the ruling party. Or to put it in a quite different language. The statement “the essence of technology is nothing technological” is fundamentally untrue and a barrier to thought. Technology really does need to be understood through the collaboration of specialized knowledges of what it actually is and does. The attempt to make philosophy a ruling ‘technology of essence’ is retrograde. The technology of essence is nothing essential. Philosophy can only set itself on a useful path once again on the basis of this humility, and as a low theory rather than a high theory." (http://www.urbanomic.com/pub_accelerate.php)