Accelerations: Oppositional Subjects

January 31, 2012

In a recent issue of E-Flux, Gean Moreno has written on many of the same themes I have touched upon in the past, developing his ideas by way of the rather elegant analogy of nano-technology’s ‘grey goo’. His Notes on the Inorganic, part 1: Accelerations, considers capital in light of a Landian reading, regarding it as a distinct ontological being from the human, but of which the human is a constitutive part. He follows the apocalyptic course of Landian eschatology, where the dissipative forces of capital grind down all being that is not subordinated to its drive for replication into the de-intensive states of annihilation or equivalence. He ends his summation of this accelerationist capitalism with the conclusion that, while we should be wary of this alien force, we might be able to tap its energies to produce a newly constituted resistance. [1]

Interestingly, while proposing this, he offers a critique of ‘design thinking’ which attempts to exploit the devastation of capitalist production, while prematurely capitulating to the percieved inevitability of its power:

Pre-emptive design capitulates to an erosion of critical distance in order to vindicate itself as the pragmatic-ethical option: it is willing to look the bitter truth in the face and devise, in an unsentimental way, the best possible solution for the depletion to come. [2]

Instead, Moreno suggests the production of counterfactual claims, a premise which he will more fully develop in his later articles. While looking forward to his further exploration of this notion, I would like further develop some thoughts I myself have presented in regards to harnessing the energies of accelerationism, while keeping in mind the above critique.

Both Moreno and I have been influenced by the wonderful symptomatic diagnosis of capitalism by Franco Berardi. Berardi’s analysis is focused on the disruptive shocks the accelerating displacements of late-capitalism have had upon the human organism:

The cognitive performance of the precarious worker must become compatible, fractal, recombinable. Cognitive ability must be detached from sensibility, from the ability to detect, interpret, and understand signs that cannot be translated into words. The standardization of the cognitive process involves a digital formatting of the mind, disturbing the sphere of sensibility, and finally destroying it. [3]

Where we both disagree with him, however, is in a return to the limits of the human body as a measure of the productive limits of capital. Berardi’s prescription evokes a return to the Kantian legislature of the human subject as the end of all ethical action. Berardi’s neo-Kantian humanism acknowledges the body as a material machinic organism (his inheritance from Deleuze and Gauttari) that can be manipulated and re-organized (with pharmaceuticals for instance), but he maintains a reactionary and idyllic attachment to the authenticity and integrity of the body.

For my part, I find that a return to the human body as the ultimate speed limit also has the deleterious effect of limiting the expansion of the knowledge project. [4] As Peter Sloterdjik makes clear in his explications of Heidegger’s ‘throwness’, there is a relationship between the body and the environment, where one is dependent upon the conditions of the other for its existence, and that technology makes possible a re-alignment, or dis-alignment of one and the other. Technology is then necessary if we are to collect experience of the world outside of this small bubble of existence into which we have been thrown, and by a biological necessity, cannot leave. [5] Prosthesis or modifications to the body through a sort of cybernetics are the natural conclusion of this logic.

We do not, however, have to assume capitalism as the engine of this technological transformation. As Benjamin Noys points out, “[…] there is no simply essential or necessary reason why cybernetic or neurobiological forces are ‘capitalist’, or could not be reassembled (to use Nicole Pepperell’s formulation) for socialism or communism.” [6]

The interesting question then, is what is the idea of this communism that will propel the movement into this post-humanism? As, Alain Badiou asks, “What is to be done about this fact: that science knows how to make a new man?’ And since there is no project, or as long as there is no project, everyone knows there is only one answer: profit will tell us what to do.” [7] Badiou recognizes that without an alternative regulating idea, capitalism becomes the default conditioning mechanism of the post-human; Moreno’s grey goo swallows us all. Berardi, on the other hand, expects a return to a kind of humanism, where the body itself becomes the regulating ideal of the world around it.

To put it another way, there is an ontological spectrum between the human subject and the xenoeconomic subject, capitalism. The techno-ubermensch of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity, for instance, is one other possible subject along this axis. The issue is, as Moreno points out, to what degree the design of this new subject is not simply capitulated to capitalism, but how it is thought in opposition to it.

In the past, I have proposed a speculative phenomenology, along the lines of Vilem Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, as a possible model for understanding the machinic organism that late-capitalism has erupted into. [8] It may seem a bit ridiculous to discuss the capitalist subject, since, as far as we know, that subject does not have a self, but without embracing the reductive tenor of Thomas Metzinger’s work in Being No One, I think it is possible to speak about the phenomenal being of non-human subjects in terms of the formal structural properties he applies to the self. What Metzinger calls the phenomenal self-model, a virtualized self-reflexive representation, is a particular phenomenal model organized around the biological structure of the human. In his work he discusses instances in which components may be added, subtracted, or modified from this model, suggesting that it might be arranged otherwise. For instance, he talks about the loss of perspectivalness, wherein one loses a unitary view of a global reality centered upon the experiencing ego. As a result, one might experience complete depersonalization, which can lead to dysphoric states and a loss of function. [9]

Now, as I said, I’m not interested in the nihilistic/reductive aspect of Metzinger’s work (Graham Harman has done a rather good job of debunking those issues [10]), but rather the formal possibilities suggested by his functional/structuralist break-down of the self. If it is possible to expand this model of consciousness to post-human and non-human actors, then it is possible to imagine the alien subject of capital, and it must also be possible to speculate about the configurations of alternative subjectivities opposed to capital.


1. Gean Moreno, “Notes on the Inorganic, part 1: Accelerations”, E-Flux Journal #31, January 2012
2. ibid.
3. Fanco Berardi (Bifo), “I Want to Think: POST-U“, E-Flux Journal #24, April 2011
4. Joshua Johnson, “Velvet Exoskeleton”,, May 16, 2011
5. Peter Sloterdjik, “Atmospheric Politics
6. Benjamin Noys, “The Grammar of Neoliberalism”, Accelerationism Workshop, Goldsmiths, 4 September 2010
7. Alain Badiou, The Century, trans. Alberto Tosacno, Polity Press
8. Vilem Flusser, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, trans. Rodrigo Maltez Novaes, Atropos Press, New York/Dresden
9. Thomas Metzinger, “Being No One: lecture”, A Foerster Lectures on the Immortality of the Soul presented by the UC Berkeley Graudate Council, 2005
10. Graham Harman, “The Problem with Metzinger”, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 7, No 1, 2011