Monsalvat: Breaking Perspective

January 20, 2013

Note: This text was produced to accompany the exhibition Monsalvat organized by Andrea Merkx & Nathan Gwynne at Bureau Gallery. A fully designed version of this text with images is available in PDF format, and a limited print version may be found at the gallery. All uncredited quotes in the following text are excerpted from TS Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’

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The Monsalvat Exhibition at Bureau

The Arthurian cycle and its attendant texts maintains a particular historical and social connection with medieval Europe, specifically the development of British culture, but as Joseph Campbell recognized, the overarching themes addressed by the cycle are connected to an allegory of human development. Examined speculatively, and unmoored from their particular lineage, these texts may be extended beyond even their claims to a humanist spiritual development and re-configured into an inhumanist trajectory. One of the founding texts of the Arthurian drama, Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval remains unfinished. Perceval never quite completes the quest. The ailing Fisher King, whose mysterious impotence is connected with the decay of the realm, is never restored. We might imagine that Perceval never rescues the Fisher King, that the diagnosis of the King’s illness was only the impetus for revolution, and that the unasked question is that of Lenin’s imaginary, “What is to be done?”

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?

In Eric Rohmer’s plastic and highly constructed retelling of the myth, we are drawn as much to the stilted artificiality of the sets, as we are to the ritualized manner of the performers. Monologue is directed straight at the fourth wall: “he withheld from asking how it could be, for he remembered the worthy man’s council, so he did not ask.” The question breaks through all points of the construct. Vision is so totalizing it beckons blindness. Orbis Arboreum, globules of plastic leaves like eyes rooted to the earth, populate the set and we observe with them the procession of the tragedy (or is it farce) that plays out before us. The topsoil, now little more than a plane of wood and astroturf, recedes towards a painted curtain; an atmospheric perspective of mountains deepening the depth of the limit.

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

The naif Perceval trots through it all, the holy fool, ignorance personified; and that is his strongest weapon. Preserving ignorance is necessary to maintain openness within the world, a sensitivity to its abyssal nature. Perceval is the fool when he knows the courtly manner and the betterness to politely avoid questions, but he is holy when he meets the world with curiosity

The abyss is the ururgrund upon which all contingent reality unfolds and the theater is already immersed. It is where the curtain parts in Rhomer’s stage, the vanishing point beyond all perspectives. Merkx & Gwynne’s Monsalvat is organized along a perspectival axis, the future vanishing into the euclidean horizon. Single point perspective is dependent upon the subjective position of the viewer in relation to the architecture for it to cohere. It is an illusion presented precisely for its ability to be dispelled, for what happens when we step to one-side? Parallax. The illusion breaks, the depthlessness of the backwall disjoints from the forced perspective of the foreground, and we realize, the grund up which we stand slips into a new urgrund. Monsalvat; a space within a space and/or a space without a space.

This space defined by linear perspective is calculable, navigable, and predictable. It allows the calculation of future risk, which can be anticipated, and therefore, managed. As a consequence, linear perspective not only transforms space, but also introduces the notion of a linear time, which allows mathematical prediction and, with it, linear progress.
Hito Steyerl, ‘In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective’

Capitalism maintains its dominance by naturalizing its perspective, and insisting that the only horizon worth setting upon must be golden. Profit is the only true instrument of navigation, and its transcendental efficacy must be maintained. There is but one grail, and one quest; one way to traverse the wasteland. Here are the empty vertices of Uccello’s grail; a phantom fetish, bearing the blood of god for the catholic communion.

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.

Later Germanic mythologies, like Wagner’s Parsifal , re-constituted the Chretien text, smoothing out the ambiguity of the question. For Wagner, the quest centers on the spear, whose restoration returns the King’s lost potency and restores the land. In Chretien’s tale, Perceval is shown a number of marvels at the Fisher King’s palace, amongst which are the grail and the spear. In seeing these objects, the hero’s central predicament is the asking of the question. The myth does not simply resolve into a single possible quest or future, rather the imaginary is left open.

For Oedipus to be occupied, a certain number of conditions are indispensable: the field of social production and reproduction must become independent of familial reproduction, that is, independent of the territorial machine that declines alliances and filiations; the detachable fragments of the chain must be converted , by virtue of this independence, into a transcendent detached object that crushes their polyvocal character; the detached object(phallus) must perform a kind of folding operation– a kind of application or reduction(rabattement): a reduction of the social field, defined as the aggragate of departure, to the familial field, now defined as the aggregate of destination– and it must establish a network of one-to-one relations between the two.
Deleuze and Guattari, ‘Anti Oedipus’

Chretien’s account never finishes Perceval’s thread, and it ends once it is revealed that Perceval was unable to ask the necessary question due to his abandonment of his mother, and her subsequent death. Deleuze and Guattari trace a biopolitical relationship between the schematization of generative and filial relationships. The prohibition against incest produces the defining exclusion of the set that characterizes one’s identity within the social order. One is named as a mother, a son, or a father according to this germinal structural difference. The land was constructed upon ley-lines, whose histories have been buried to us: the economic affordances of the system and the terrain of the imaginary seemingly become locked within the grid. However, desire in itself is only contingently subordinated to this structural difference, there is no absolute necessity. The ground upon which it has grown is not a linearly differentiated schema, verging upon a single horizon, but a broken perspective.

Your mother is dead, your father impotent, you wander a wasteland in search of a question. To where will you step, and spy new ground?

Perceval is made to do penance to Christ for his unheimlicheness. Perceval has not completed his sentence. The project is incomplete, and it will always be incomplete. We abduct him from the earth and cast him towards the abyss.

Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

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

Xeno Economics: Speculative Phenomenology and Capital

September 12, 2011

Recent market innovation, generated by advances in technology and the creation of a cognitive surplus, has led to a condition that calls into question the epistemological basis of the knowledge project. Increasingly, computers model the world, but not for the purpose of research, but rather in service of capitalist exploitation. Knowledge, under this regime, is then only as valuable as it’s ability to liquidate all forms of matter into their optimal monetary value. [1]

If it is now a machinic capitalism whose artificial cognition rules our world — its amphetaminic diachronism melting all to air and lava-like, re-sedimenting the crust — we must ask what is this unconscious from which everything is pulled, molten, to the surface? The phenomenal being of this alien mind, whose transcendental conditions must be vastly different than ours — stemming from countless electronic eyes, miles of fiber-optic tentacles, and limitless semio-data, operating at billions of floating-point operations per-second — produces more information hours than attention can ever repay. [2]

In August of 2011, NPR reported that 75% of market volatility was the product of High Frequency Trading (HFT). [3] HFT runs on hyper-engineered algorithms whose complex mathematics produce an instantaneous transcendental model of the world based upon data consumption far beyond any human phenomenal capacity. The light-speed synthesis of pure information may or may-not be deciphered by human interpreters after-the-fact, in effect modeling possible futures whose real-world fallout may never actually be understood by the very people it affects or is meant to serve. [4] HFT proposes a world in which capital as social relation is instead operated by an anonymous and asocial computer network whose xeno-economic agenda is all but invisible to only the most advanced of computer specialists whose comprehension of the very devices they deploy may be governed not by understanding (as in knowledge) but an opaque operability. Capital becomes an alien and alienating relation, whose machinic agenda follows no specific human intention, but the purely fictional causality of virtual universe.

Goldman Sachs, one of the premiere operators of this advanced late capitalist techno-model, has also been derisively referred to as the ‘vampire squid’. [5]

Coincidentally,  Vilem Flusser first wrote of the vampyroteuthis, or the vampire squid, in an early work, where he methodically examines the speculative phenomenology of the creature. [6] Basing his investigations on its biomorphic difference, and particularly noting the closeness of the head and the foot ( sky and earth in Heidegger’s terms), as well as the mouth and the genitals (Battaillian erotics), Flusser produces an animal who is our biological anti-hero. His vampire squid is blessed with phenotypical traits that are a nightmare-mirror world to us . The creature’s tentacled grasp radiates outward from its head, the phosphorescent tips of its many arms groping for prey in every crevice. Whatever it finds, it pulls back into its mouth and, in orgasmic joy, digests every morsel. The ‘knowing’ of the vampyroteuthis is synonymous with consuming, the vampire squid understands reality by incorporating it; by making spiteful love to it.

Flusser’s vampyroteuthis, like our financial vampire squid, consumes everything unto itself. In his own time, the vampire squid had rarely been encountered, and the few live specimens that were dragged from the bottom of the ocean quickly succumbed to a world they were not meant to thrive in. His study then, is a fictional one, but one whose speculative energies open up new areas of investigation outside an ever recursively bracketed post-Kantian anthropocentism. Flusser concludes his study with the statement, “In all these places Vampyroteuthis emeges as our own mirror, as our antipode in which all of our aspects inverted. Because to contemplate this mirror with the aim of recognising ourselves in it, and with the aim of being able to alter oneself thanks to this recognition, is the purpose of every fable, including this one.” [7]

If we are to think the conditions of machinic capitalism, whose tentacled form has metastasized outwards from our simple bilateral one, it may be necessary to begin a speculative project that will enumerate the transcendental conditions of an alien difference. If we do not take up this task, we risk living inside a world where our own experience is increasingly dictated to us by machines, whose algorithmic filters reign over vast territories of unrefined data, compressing all that is raw and sublime into an iCloud. There, a friendly graphic user interface breaks all of our decisions into binary conditionals that we, in our haste to consume (as is demanded of us), mistakenly take for the ironclad laws of nature. Kant’s transcendental conditions were only ever the limit of what the human organism could intuit within the terrifying sublime. Technology has allowed us a window to peak beyond the gloss of our own senses, but to begin to believe what is thrown on the glass for everything that is beyond it is a terrible mistake. [8]

To sit inside the spectrum of the continuum that is mediated to us, simply because it is what we can ‘socially’ comprehend, is to ignore the revolutionary potential inherent in attempting to encompass the modal possibilities of the full continuum of experience, especially as our own former tools begin to mirror the possibility of different modalities back to us. Machinic capitalism proposes a phenomenal time beyond our natural capacity, and it is swiftly making us into products not only of its excess, but also its limitations. We are the objects, the cultural products, the art-work of a mind that is modelling its own drive towards limitless consumption. [9] In proposing an investigation of machinic capital, we are proposing an investigation into our own teleology, into uncharted territories of experience, where the human may end and become something more.

1 Franco Berardi (Bifo), “Cognitarian Subjectivation“, E-Flux Journal #20, November 2011
2 I am thinking, of course, playing on Mike Kelley’s 1987 work, “More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid,” but operating outside of the anthropic circuit. As Kelley notes about the work in a 1992 interview, “Basically, gift giving is like indentured slavery or something. There’s no price, so you don’t know how much you owe. The commodity is the emotion. What’s being bought and sold is emotion. I did a piece called More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid. I said if each one of these toys took 600 hours to make then that’s 600 hours of love; and if I gave this to you, you owe me 600 hours of love; and that’s a lot. And if you can’t pay it back right away it keeps accumulating…” [John Miller, “Interview: Mike Kelley”, Bomb Magazine #38, Winter 1992] While leaving aside the violent implications of gift giving, there is an asynchronous relationship between the time accumulated in the labor and the time spent consuming that labor. Under the machinic regime this relationship is inverted. The labor time of computers is able to speed up the production of semio-information far beyond the consumption capability of human beings.
3 Jim Zarroli, “Is Computer-Driven Trading Causing Market Spikes?“, NPR, August 19, 2011
4 Kara Scannell and Tom Lauricella, “Flash Crash is Pinned on One Trade“, The Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2010
5 Matt Taibbi, “The Great American Bubble Machine“, Rolling Stone, April 5, 2010
6 Vilem Flusser, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, trans. Rodrigo Maltez Novaes, Atropos Press, New York/Dresden
7 ibid., 126
8 I am expanding here upon a notion discussed at some length by James Trafford, who derives it from Thomas Metzinger. The basic idea is that mistaking phenomenal experience for the actual conditions of the world is akin to mistaking the finger pointing at the sun for the sun. It is easy to imagine that any phenomenal conditions outside of human experience would also be subject to such a mistake, but on a different modal order of mediation.  [MetzingerJames Trafford, “The Shadow of a Puppet Dance: Metzinger, Ligotti and the Illusion of Selfhood“, Collapse IV]
9 Franco Berardi, in a devastatingly Huxleyan tone, notes the influx of psycho-pharmaceuticals into neo-liberal culture, and their attempt to combat the mental breakdown imposed by the rapid changes of the new economy. He describes the reformatting of the mind:  “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.” [Franco Berardi (Bifo), “I Want to Think: POST-U“, E-Flux Journal #24, April 2011]

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.

Some thoughts regarding Mira Schor’s generational critique

June 23, 2011

To briefly recap the context of this conversation, Jerry Saltz wrote an article criticizing many of the young artists at the recent biennial, arguing that much of the work suffered from an puerile academicism:

Yet many times over—too many times for comfort—I saw the same thing, a highly recognizable generic ­institutional style whose manifestations are by now extremely familiar. Neo-Structuralist film with overlapping geometric colors, photographs about photographs, projectors screening loops of grainy black-and-white archival footage, abstraction that’s supposed to be referencing other abstraction—it was all there, all straight out of the seventies, all dead in the ­water. It’s work stuck in a cul-de-sac of aesthetic regress, where everyone is deconstructing the same elements.

While it is hard to not look around and to see exactly this problem (a concern that I wholeheartedly agree with) where so much art looks like so much other art without attempting to confront anything other than its own historical conditions, market conditions, and/or engaged in hermetic naval-gazing, Saltz’s take, while evident, does not attempt a very deep examination of the causes of this condition other than to blame art schools, which was why Schor’s follow-up to this problem was interesting, precisely because it attempts to diagnose what is causing the neo-conservatism of so many young artists.

For her, it is a problem of politics, or a lack of political will; this social condition is, of course, a symptom of contemporary capitalism. She compares current social attitudes towards divorce to the conservatism of todays MFAs:

The conservatism emanating from the opprobrium and shame experienced by these affluent young divorcees is also apparent in the MFA generation of artists who have learned all the rules of the art market, are incredibly professional and well-behaved, and would never dream of questioning the status quo of the art market beyond a certain point of academic correctness. And why would they when most of the contemporary critics who these artists follow inevitably preempt any tentative attempts at critique of the obscenities of market by prescriptively concluding that it is naive to imagine one could avoid it. Resistance, one is told every which way, is not just futile, it’s unrealistic, stupid even.

Whence then, does resistance rise? It is hard, at this point in time, growing up as a part of the generation that, as she says, “was formed during the Reagan Bush era when anything resembling true critiques of authority and power have been methodically ridiculed, demonized, or erased, creating a cohort that is surprisingly obedient and conformist, when not imbued with a sense of hopelessness.” It is also true that it is difficult to see the value of the traditional forms of resistance (Marxism, unionization), while you watch the collapsing welfare state crumble before your eyes. After the ascent of globalized capital, the question of whether or not there is an outside anymore appears to be relatively settled, and as such, we must engage the conditions as they exist, not how we wish them to be.

Schor advocates pacifism itself as meaningful form of resistance, in opposition to the Oedipal struggles of war proposed by the modernists whose utopic/dystopic forms still continue to shed their last vestiges of life into ossified remains that we call contemporary art. To speak to her approach, she writes in another article:

As I scan some pages from Mark Kurlansky’s Non-Violence: The History of A Dangerous Idea, so dangerous there is no proactive word for it, only a word defined by the primacy of its opposite, violence, I listen to the music that Dr. King listened to on the car radio as he drove alone to Montgomery, Alabama for his first job interview: Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor: Regnava del silencio,” which, he later wrote, transformed the monotous drive into a radiant experience. On one of the pages I scan for my students, Gandhi is quoted as writing: “Given a just cause, capacity for endless suffering, and avoidance of violence, victory is certain.” “Capacity for endless suffering” is key in my thoughts here, not to focus on the meditative as it sometimes appears in contemporary culture, as a panacea, but on the power of grief when it is expressed as does Mahalia Jackson, heard in this program singing at King’s funeral, “Precious Lord, take my hand,” his favorite song, which he had once requested be sung at his funeral. Every word, every syllable, every sound has meaning, deep meaning. Here is voice, both literal and metaphorical. It was listening to such voices and such “voice” when I grew up that made me believe in the power of art, in the power of language (for the good not only the bad or the stupid), in criticism too and even outrage, but never cynicism.

Not having yet read her recent book of essays, A Decade of Negative Thinking, I don’t wish to over-characterize her approach, but the title alone should clue one into the idea that she is arriving from the perspective of negative dialectic advocated by Adorno and the Frankfurt school, a form of critical Marxism whose learned helplessness to the totalizing force of capital is taught in art schools all across the country. Now, while I do have great respect for these thinkers and their analysis of the conditions of capital, the program that they advocate, of a merely oppositional criticality, akin to that described by Schor in her terms of passive resistance , is a recipe for inaction that pragmatically boils down to what she calls “[not] questioning the status quo of the art market beyond a certain point of academic correctness.” Her desire for the “Capacity towards endless suffering” resonates strongly with what Nick Land describes as “Transcendental Miserablism”:

For the Transcendental Miserablist, ‘Capitalism’ is the suffering of desire turned to ruin, the name for everything that might be wasted in time, an intolerable tantalization whose ultimate nature is unmasked by the Gnostic visionary as loss, decrepitude and death, and in truth, it is not unreasonable that capitalism should become the object of this resentful denigration. Without attachment to anything beyond its own abysmal exuberance, capitalism identifies itself with desire to a degree that cannot imaginably be exceeded, shamelessly soliciting any impulse that might contribute to an increment of economizable drive to its continuously multiplying productive initiatives. Whatever you want, capitalism is the most reliable way to get it, and by absorbing every source of social dynamism, capitalism makes growth, change and even time itself into integral components of its endlessly gathering tide. 1

I, personally, am sick of anxious hand wringing over the invasion of capital into art. It was always the case, only now, art as a commodity par excellence is unmasked. The market is now synonymous with nature for my generation, and to my mind it is not capital that is producing the conditions of anemic art, but rather the dogged insistence upon the negative theology of critique that is restraining the true productive capacity ready to be unleashed. If we must always hold the line for the deferred hope of a Marxist utopia, whose strategy has long since played out, then we are dis-enganging ourselves from the tactical advantages offered by embracing the productive forces of capital. As Land argues, “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.” 2

Thoroughly tactical incursions into capitalism, through the market, may be the best hope we have for any kind of real productive change now. Schor is afraid of this generations “Darwinian positivism”, but active change and not being afraid of the possible destructive capacities inherent in capital, rather than a continual reiteration of a negativity that dare not move for fear of incriminating itself, may signal a new politics of engagement. We have tried peace, and seen it box us into an ever more recursive and humiliating hermeticism. Let us now try war.

1 Land, Nick, “Critique of Transcendental Miserablism”, Fanged Noumena
2 Land, Nick, “Meltdown”, Fanged Noumena

Motherfucking: Nick Land on Capital and Art

June 5, 2011

The inherent connection between the irruptive primary process and artistic creativity, or the basic inextricability of psychoanalysis and aesthetics slips Freud’s grasp, and art is presented as a merely contingent terrain for the application of therapeutically honed concepts. The adaptation of the mutilated individual to its society, in which art is illegal except as a parasite of elite commodity production circuits, is the scandal of psychoanalysis. It becomes Kantian (bourgeois); a delicate police activity dedicated to the social management and containment of genius. As if ‘therapy’ could be anything other than the revolutionary unleashing of artistic creation!

– Nick Land, “Art as Insurrection”, Fanged Noumena

To hear it from the exhausted remnants of those schools of critical theory and Marxism, it is both the comedy and tragedy of contemporary art that it operates at the vanguard of consumer capitalism, apparently completely complicit and under the spell of the very forces of power that operate the majority of the world’s wealth and resources. 1 The museum is a factory, tightly contained and maintained by the managerial class, safely autonomous, and drunk on the trickle of wealth that flows down the legs of the one percenters. 2 The mill town no longer need reside in a single place, but now steadily circulates through the international borders that capital has carefully burrowed through sovereignties. One might, of course, miss the runway lights that will taxi you safely into your next destination, but then you may be mistaken for a terrorist. 3

Whilst the autonomy of art in its current structural incarnation preserves its capacity towards experimentation, it also safely protects the broader social sphere and the interests of the ruling elite from what may amount to an invasion of the cancerously anti-humanist material sub-strata of the gene splicing required by purely novel production. Land identifies this terrifying productive capacity as a the return of the abyssal real, first as genius, smuggled into Kant’s transcendental frame-work through the contradictory notion of the sublime, and finally as schizophrenia– the mental condition that destroys all socially recognizable frames of reference– as outlined by Deleuze and Gauttari in Anti-Oedipus; 4 the artist as a viral phage, complicit with the creeping outside.

Initially, Land’s relationship with capital is ambivalent. He first identifies it with the procedures of rationality and control as outlined by the philosophy of containment enacted by Kant’s transcendental project 5, but as his perspective evolves, and he learns to de-couple the phallic/bourgeois affects of moralism from the material processess of capital as pure mechanism of dissipation. In this light, he aligns capital with Freud’s death drive, or the desire towards unbecoming. 6 As he says:

The deep secret of capital-as-process is its incommensurability with the preservation of bourgeois civilization, which clings to it like a dwarf riding a dragon. As capital ‘evolves’, the increasingly absurd rationalization of production-for-profit peels away like a cheap veneer from the positive-feedback detonation of production-for-production.

If capital is a social suicide machine, it is because it is compelled to advantage its assassins. Capital produces the first sociality in which the pouvoir of dominance is perpetually submitted to the hazard of experimental puissance. 7

Capital is a machine in autopoiesis, spinning the products of human society into a determined impact with the real. The artist is a tool of this process, reshuffling and redefining the categories of material in a drive towards ever becoming novelty. The question is, of course, are they on the side of containment — carefully policing the boundaries of the real to preserve the remnants of dying anthropocentric sociality, and thus bulwarking the remaining pillars of a crumbling structure– or are they on the side of the invaders, redistributing the contents of sensibility towards the degree zero of a substance without hierarchy?

Art’s organizational impulse may be both: at once a carefully crafted cage for the dangerous impact of the real, domesticating the wounded breach for its reception in society, and at the same time a dedicated vector for the distribution of infection. In the anti-oedipal schema of Land, the managerial father may be shocked to learn that his children are busy fucking mother nature, and are out to kill him.


1 Steyerl, Hito, Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy
2 Steyerl, Hito, Is the Museum a Factory
3 I am thinking of an extreme version of the inclusion of an antagonistic relationship, as Cliare Bishop advocates. (Bishop, Claire, Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics); Perhaps an even more radical example would be an insurgency modelled more on the politics of Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia, in which the inside is constantly perforated by an antagonistic outside (Negarestani, Reza, Cyclonopedia)
4 Land, Nick, “Art as Insurrection”, Fanged Noumena
5 Land, Nick, “Kant, Capital, and the Prohibition of Incest”, Fanged Noumena
6 Land, Nick, “Making it with Death”, Fanged Noumena
7 ibid.