Accelerationism and Insurrection: Sleeping with the Enemy

July 18, 2011

Disclaimer, July 16, 2014 : This note is a corrective to this article, which was written sometime in the summer of 2011, and is long overdue for a response. At the time of the writing of this article, I had just discovered the amphetamine laced drug that is Nick Land, and was trying to come to my own terms with his writing. In researching his writings online, I also came across the then nascent discussion around what was to become Accelerationism. Since that time, I have had the great pleasure of speaking and working with many of the people who have contributed to the developing discussion around Accelerationism, including #Accelerate authors Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams (who were kind enough to let me publish the first print version of the manifesto in Dark Trajectories in 2013). I no longer think the manner in which I characterized Accelerationism in this article is a good, or even useful, explanation of the term. Someday soon I hope to write a full corrective, but absent that article, I would direct you to Peter Wolfendale’s recent post, “So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?”. Pete gets at the heart of the problem with the description I used for Accelerationism  — “Accelerationism is the notion that rather than halting the onslaught of capital, it is best to exacerbate its processes to bring forth its inner contradictions and thereby hasten its destruction.”–  as Pete says:

D[eleuze]&G[uattari]’s insistence that nothing was ever killed by contradictions is a truly formative insight. For many, this has precipitated a turn away from a dialectical materialist analysis of the contradictions inherent within the functional structure of social systems to one grounded in cybernetics and complexity theory, which can account for both constitutive and disruptive tensions between intra-systemic tendencies in more intricate ways that are equally less susceptible to common misunderstandings.

Capitalism cannot be undone by “exacerbating its processes”, and as I have also come to believe, ‘left-Accelerationism’ does not seek to further ‘contradictions’, but to develop a means of understanding the systematic complexity of our world, so as to offer better solutions than capitalism’s logic can. Even the Landian forumalation of ‘right-Acceleration’, which is referred to in this article is more focused on the release of a libidinal capitalism, rather than an exhaustion of its energies by contradiction. As for the role of Art in relation to Accelerationism, I have a very different story to say about that today — another project which is yet to come.  So, while it may seem to be for the best to simply remove this article from the internet, it has been referred to and critiqued by a few people in its short existence, and for that I will leave it as a record. I do, however, recommend that people seeking to find out about Accelerationism read the article linked above, check out the #Accelerate manifesto, or even pick up #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader from Urbanomic — all of which would be much better intros to this developing movement. 



Accelerationism is the notion that rather than halting the onslaught of capital, it is best to exacerbate its processes to bring forth its inner contradictions and thereby hasten its destruction. As a radical act, the genesis of this idea stretches back to Marx [1] and continues through Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, and Nick Land’s cybertechnics. I will be focusing largely on Land’s formulation of this perspective, it being among the more recent, and one whose uniquely anti-humanist features I find myself more sympathetic to, particularly because they disrupt the problematic formulation of the subject.

The significant difference between Land’s conception of capital, and that of Deleuze and Guattari, whom his work is explicitly indebted to, is the focus on a negative, or anti-vitalist impulse within the mechanism of capital itself. Rather than re-affirming a kind of Hegelian capitalist subject, Land’s impulse is to move towards further and further desubjectivization and away from the elan of capital as a constructive force. As Ray Brassier details in his excellent critique of Land’s thought:

What Land proposed to retain from Kant was the emphasis on the transcendental efficacy of synthesis, the primacy of transcendental synthesis, but no longer as the synthesis of empirical items, objects of experience anchored in a constituting subject. It’s the self-synthesising potency of what he called intensive materiality. This becomes the key term. It’s a brilliant explication of the logical operation that Deleuze and Guattari carry out vis-a-vis Kantianism in Anti-Oedipus. Matter is nothing but machinic production, self-differentiation, and the fundamental binary that organizes this materialist metaphysics is that between intensive materiality, which he identifies with the body without organs, and death, this moment of absolute indifference as absolute difference. [2]

For Land, materiality is the process of pure synthesis, and the production of representation, or transcendental frameworks, is a consequence of that process. As Brassier argues, this sets up a duality wherein the product of this production is a de-potentiated after-effect of the primary process, and under Land’s schema, a dead-end to be overcome as a mere blockage in the system’s self becoming; as primary production continues it breaks down the binary difference between representation and itself as process. There is, therefore, shades of a black Hegelianism within Land’s eschatology, a terminal point in which the intensification of all matter reaches “degree-zero”, as Land puts it.

The problem is, as Brassier points out:

The point is that organically individuated human subjects cannot position themselves vis-a-vis this circuit or this process. It’s happening without you anyway. It doesn’t need you. The very concept of agency is stripped out. There’s a quote of Land’s: “it’s happening anyway and there is nothing you can do about it.” Something is working through you, there is nothing you can do about it, so you might as well fuse. [3]

Under Land’s program, thought itself is an instrument of the processes of synthesis and destratification, a part of the machinic unconscious of materiality. There is no need for an agency, because you as an agent are already swept up within the process by merely being.

Furthermore, Benjamin Noys notes the passivity of this stance on the political level, and argues that Land’s teleology amounts to complete complicity with the neoliberal project. Noys sees Land as simply cheerleading a passing juggernaut, and not effectively endorsing any form of meaningful resistance or change to the current of the times. He follows Brassier in questioning the possibility of agency in such a theory, and additionally regards the Accelerationist as lacking any substantial imagination in opposition to the ruling structure of neoliberalism.  [4]

I will attempt to address these issues, particularly in relationship with Land’s insistence an art as a form of insurrection.

Following the irruption of the sublime in Kant’s philosophy, and carried through to the agent through the notion of genius, Land details a picture of art whereby the subject becomes the instrument of the unconscious outside: “One ‘is’ a genius only in the sense that “one” is violently problematized by a ferocious exteriority. One returns to the subject of which genius has been predicated to find it charred and devestated beyond recognition.” Land introduces the production of a stratified representation, in terms of the arts, as an impetus to further destratification. The work of becomes an infection in the ruling structure, ” what art takes from enigma it more than replenishes in the instantiation of itself, in the labyrinthian puzzle it plants in history.” [5]

While this does not yet distinguish the artist as an agent who willfully “chooses” the products of their insanity, it at least identifies where the vectors of a kind of political act may happen. As Badiou notes, “The avant-gardes even went to the extreme of saying that there is more politics to be found in the formal mutations of art than in politics ‘strickly speaking.'” To continue in his terms, the arts instantiate the infinite in the finite to provoke the human to not more humanity, but, in a particularly Nietzschian turn, to what is overhuman, what withdraws from interpretation. [6] Furthering this parallel, I will return to Land once more: “What the philosophers have never understood is this: it is the unintelligibility of the world alone that gives it worth.” [7] Art produces what is exceptional to the world as it is known; that is, it establishes a destabilizing factor outside of the transcendental framework that threatens to encompass the world with its totalizing formula.

In a previous article I quoted Land’s insistence upon a tactical insurgency in the market place, as opposed to following the arc of strategy, which he regards as an instrument of territorialization and stratification: “Foucault delineates the contours of power as strategy without a subject: ROM locking learning in a box. Its enemy is tactics without a strategy, replacing the politico-territorial imagery of conquest and resistance with nomad-micromilitary sabotage and evasion, reinforcing intelligence.” [8]

Brassier critiques Land on precisely this point, echoing Noys concerns about neoliberalism:

In other words, once you dissociate tactics and strategy–the famous distinction between tactics and strategy where strategy is teleological, transcendent, and representational and tactics is immanent and machinic–if you have no strategy, someone with a strategy will soon commandeer your tactics. Someone who knows what they want to realize will start using you. You become the pawn of another kind of impersonal force, but it’s no longer the glamorous kind of impersonal and seductive force that you hoped to make a compact with, it’s a much more cynical kind of libertarian capitalism. [9]

My instinct is to cross-breed Landian thought with Badiou’s to directly counter this difficulty: Art, if it is really a reflection of the kernel of the infinite or a particle of the thanotropic real, will continue to dispel further feedback despite any attempt of the neoliberal economy to instrumentalize it. Recall, for instance, when Colin Powell had Guernica covered up at the UN for his press conference on the Iraq War. [10] Guernica, in this instance was the splinter of a tactical strike, whose irreducible instance continues to worm its way into the hide of the territorialized nation-state which Powell represents.

Elie Ayache makes this approach quite clear when discussing Badiou’s ontology in relationship to both the trading of derivitives, and the production of art. Ayache, who was a trader himself, notes that the sophisticated software used by traders to predict the volatility accounts not only for known quantities, but the field of probability in which deviation can occur. The problem, however, is that this software can not account for the probabilities you havent already accounted for before-hand, which means, when something occurs outside of the model, it can only be contingently dealt with after the fact. In this way, the event appears to produce its own cause. Similarly, he brings up the short story of Borges, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. If you are familiar with the story you will recall that Pierre Menard writes Don Quixote, but he does not copy Cervantes, though his text is the same, word for word. For Ayache this is the perfect example of a rupture, or an event, that exists between the probabilities of what is known. [11] Art instantiates the being of a new form that disrupts the old order. Pierre Menard’s repetition of the text tills the very soil in which Cervates worked; he does not simply repeat Cervantes, but he pulls the roots out from under him, displacing the work in history.

I am proposing the tactics without strategy as a form analogous to Badiou’s notion of the Event as an ontological factor yet to be accounted for, in this sense, the artist becomes an agent by virtue of their production of the event, or the tactic. Willing becomes no longer necessary, but rather, in a strange causal reversal, the effect of the event. Choosing to produce the event always seemed to be derived from a subject oriented position, anyway, while Land’s philosophy quite clearly favors an ontologically ordered non-standard-numerics as an organizing principle [12] , rather than a phenomenologically operative ontology. [13]

Art is a technology [14], engendered by the productive forces of capital [15], that offers a short circuit through which the limited and limiting perspective of the subjective perspective may be transformed. The issue with Noys and Brassier’s difficulties is that they still seem to assume that the subject is the operative node, who determines the political based upon their “free-will”. The mathematical ontologies of Land and Badiou do not accept the admission of free will, and thus must operate under some sense of compatibalism. Agency is not determined by choice, but by the occasion of a Event or tactic without strategy.


1 Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto; Following Noys pedigree: “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
2 Brassier, Ray, Transcription from Accelerationism Workshop at Goldsmiths
3 ibid.
4 Noys, Benjamin, The Grammar of Neoliberalism
5 Land, Nick, “Art as Insurrection”, Fanged Noumena
6 Badiou, Alain, The Century
7 Land, Nick, “Art as Insurrection”, Fanged Noumena
8 Land, Nick, “Meltdown”, Fanged Noumena
9 Brassier, Ray, Transcription from Accelerationism Workshop at Goldsmiths
10 Cohen, David, “Hidden Treasures: What’s so controversial about Picasso’s Guernica, Slate, Feb. 6, 2003
11 Ayache, Elie, “In the Middle of the Event”, The Medium of Contingency, ed. Robin MacKay
12 Land, Nick, “Qabbala 101”, Fanged Noumena
13 Metzinger, Thomas, Being No One: The Self Model Theory of Subjectivity; In considering a speculative philosophy of the real post-Metzinger, one should be especially wary of operative phenomenology.
14 Buhlmann, Vera, “Pseudopodia, Prolegomena to a Discourse on Design”  Pre-Specifics: Some Comparatistic Investigations on Research in Design and the Arts, ed. Buhlmann, Vera and Weidmer, Martin; I would propose the arts as a primitive form of cybertechnics, one that I think will only become more complex as capital demands further interface with vast amounts of data.
15 Noys, Benjamin, The Grammar of Neoliberalism; “[Accelerationism] presumes a fundamental incompatibility of the market with capitalism, deriving this from a Braudelian position, and often tends to presume a fundamental incompatibility of technological forces, especially cybernetic and neurobiological, with capitalism. Of course, markets have pre-existed capitalism and could post-date it and, of course, there is no reason why cybernetic or neurobiological forces are ‘capitalist’, or could not be reassembled (to use Nicole Pepperell’s formulation) for socialism or communism.”; I think there is an underlying assumption of “free-will” here, in that the technological products of capital might have been assembled otherwise. I would argue that those forces are capitalist in that they have resulted from the modes of production engendered by capitalism. That does not mean, however, that these technologies might not supersede the very structure that has produced them. To yoke them to the ideologically circumscribed realms of communism or socialism derived from some kind of ethical humanism seems to deprive them of exactly the promise of supplanting a limited transcendental perspective.