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.