Thoughts Surrounding Accelerationism

I can’t claim to have followed all of the debates surrounding the Accelerationist Manifesto (excerpts in italics in what follows). But I have remained intrigued by it—certainly intrigued enough to make my way to the accelerationist event this past weekend, given its proximity to my current location.  The duration of doing this got me thinking, in a relatively more concentrated way, about what accelerationism’s saying, but moreso about what’s being done by this saying and the attention attracted by this saying. I figured it would be worth setting down some of these thoughts. And let me say in advance, these thoughts are scattered, and no doubt they can be found to have missed some kind of nuance in accelerationism, etc.—so, these thoughts are not “just ideas,” they are just ideas.

Benjamin Noys’ paper was the highlight for me. I won’t rehash his argument, which was excellent, but I do want to say something about his approach—especially apparent in the Q & A—to accelerationism. Specifically, I have in mind his remark about the name “accelerationism.” Paraphrasing from memory, he posed the question of why this isn’t called a “configuration of the present.” This is to observe, as I understand it, that accelerationism is valorizing itself in terms of what it can offer as the future, which is (implicitly, at the very least) to shift attention from the wretchedness (my word) of the present. While accelerationism would, I think, admit to the fact that the present is wretched, it does not frame its analysis in terms of an analysis of present wretchedness. Rather it converts awareness of such wretchedness into a project of the future. It thereby uses the wretchedness of the present in order to shift attention to articulating the future. Perhaps this is a valuable move, but that seems highly arguable. Couldn’t the turn from the wretchedness of the present to the promise of the future amount to a means of becoming inattentive to this wretchedness? Or, as Noys put it, if accelerationism is motivated by an analysis of the severity of present alienation, why are we devoting a day to acceleration instead of to alienation?

I can’t avoid seeing the entire accelerationist project as a conversion project. It made me think, in fact, of Augustine, for whom the value of becoming a Christian was dependent on no longer being a Manichean, a Neoplatonist, etc. In other words, the value of a Christian (and definitionally universal) future was dependent on the devalorization (and identification/construction) of a prior position. Or we might just think of Christianity as such, which articulated its value on its having superseded past positions such as “Judaism.” The point I’m trying to make is that within such narratives the present always disappeared in favor of the developmental schema of a future that would overcome the past. And I don’t think this is a mere analogy, for the developmentalism at work in Christianity was taken up by modernity, which one could say amounts to the act of modernity turning Christianity’s developmentalism against Christianity, in a kind of repetition compulsion. (Though if modernity turned against and superseded Christianity, it did often offer Christianity credit for making such supersession possible; other “religions,” or “races,” were not given so much credit by modernity.)

The movement towards a surpassing of our current constraints must include more than simply a struggle for a more rational global society. We believe it must also include recovering the dreams which transfixed many from the middle of the Nineteenth Century until the dawn of the neoliberal era, of the quest of Homo Sapiens …

Of course, the present more or less stayed wretched. It still is. And accelerationism still seems to be trying to redeem it, and specifically to redeem it via a narrative of a past being overcome by a better future. The takeaway of this narrative, I suppose, is that there’s still time for things to get better, or that it does get better, no matter how bad it is right now. But to say such a thing is, quite literally, to try to forget the now in favor of the future.

To criticize this redemptive futurism—and redemptive futurism is what accelerationism is, no matter how catastrophic its rhetoric may be—is … politically ineffective, a “non-starter”? Such a charge was one that kept popping up, but this charge works only insofar as one presupposes a certain concept of the political. There is, in fact, something very peculiar about accelerationism, namely that it traffics in thematics of destruction, apocalypse, the threatened loss of futural hope, but in the end it wants the future—in fact, it wants a future that would redeem … what?

Towards a completion of the Enlightenment project of self-criticism and self-mastery, rather than its elimination … The choice facing us is severe: either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism …

Well, one of the things that did come up was modernity. And yes, it seems to me that accelerationism is about redeeming modernity. The claim is that modernity is capitalist, but not all of modernity is capitalist, that modernity (and—what is maybe the same thing—universalism) can be turned against capitalism. So, whatever modernity means here, the future that accelerationism desires is a future that will be not only post-capitalist, but also one enabled by modernity. But, to say it one last time, what—or who—is modernity? Or, actually, why should it be saved? I would not be the first to say that modernity is constructed, or gains its coherence as a project, through various modes of racializing and gendering (to massively understate the point), through colonialism and the developmental tendency that aligns European peoples with the future and all others with some position in the past (such as the “primitive”). Nor would I be the first to say, in light of all of this, that the ultimate, in-the-last-instance relation to take to modernity is to say No—and especially to say No when modernity tells us that it is the cure to its own faults, that it will redeem itself, that (in a rather Christian gesture) its faults should be forgiven and forgotten in virtue of the futural possibility it offers.

16 thoughts on “Thoughts Surrounding Accelerationism

  1. I don’t know much about accelerationism but as per your comments on redemptive futurism, conversion, and colonialism…
    I was reminded of what chief Plenty Coups said about the cultural devastation experienced by the Crow people at the hands of the settlers: “After the buffalo went away, nothing happened.” After settlers came, nothing happened. What does this mean? It seems that colonialism (read Christianity) introduced the element of futurity to Native peoples via its conversion narrative, which stopped or killed (save the man, kill the Indian) the old/primitive/sinful way of life by naming it that, by constructing it as precisely that. Simultaneously, it produced the new/civilized/saved way of life. Colonial Christianity produced a “now” a “present” that was not the present (because Native people and life ways were not in the past – the Indian is not dead) but the future-which-claims-to-be-the-present. And also the present-which-claims-to-be-the-future (i.e. redemption both already but not yet).
    I don’t know if that works. Just thinking out loud. Feel free to push back.

  2. While accelerationism would, I think, admit to the fact that the present is wretched, it does not frame its analysis in terms of an analysis of present wretchedness. Rather it converts awareness of such wretchedness into a project of the future. It thereby uses the wretchedness of the present in order to shift attention to articulating the future.

    Cf. “The condition of the world, the strife and uncertainty that is everywhere, the general dissatisfaction with and rebellion against any and every situation shows that the ideal of material perfection is an empty dream.”

  3. Accelerationism is not a harbinger of progress—either moral or technological—but is rather a methamphetaminized affirmation-virus as contrasted with the equilibrium-maintaining complaint-cathexis of senile academe.

  4. All this emerges just at the moment in history when climate engineering is gearing up to take over our political discourse vis-a-vis climate change. More mastery, more control – isn’t it just more of the same? A boundless faith in Science to ‘figure something out.’ The Scientist as Messiah – the critical philosopher as cheerleader. Probably a bit harsh but maybe not unduly.

  5. Your post prompted me to finally read the Accelerationist Manifesto, and it strikes me that they’re arguing that we should rejoin the lost future of the Soviet Union — because now we have the technology to really do a planned economy, and we’ve seen the pitfalls, etc. And if there was ever a society where present wretchedness was ignored in favor of the glorious redemptive future, it was the Soviet Union (at least up to the moment that the Accelerationists want to return to…).

  6. a completion of the enlightment project? i don’t think that project can just survive post-capitalism historical recontextualization, whatever that “post-capitalist” world is. plus, to this “recovering of dreams”, what’s the political praxis behind it? actually, what is ‘the political’ for the Accelerationists? and… thesis XI on feuerbach?

    i don’t know much about accelerationism either, but from your post, I’m sensing mr. Rancière already answered these guys. don’t know, just picking an idea.


  7. As you know, I usually avoid commenting, but this post did inspire me to do a little research on Futurism, the mostly Italian aesthetic movement circa 1910-1914. The differences are huge, and I am mostly wondering if the two movements betray parallelism in the Zeitgeists.

    Benjamin Noys edited Communisation and Its Discontents which I loved, but was much less prescriptive and more anarchist or post-anarchist in tone.

  8. I find this somehow apropo:

    “Abstract: Languages differ widely in the ways they encode time. I test the hypothesis that languages that grammatically associate the future and the present, foster future-oriented behavior. This prediction arises naturally when well-documented effects of language structure are merged with models of intertemporal choice. Empirically, I find that speakers of such languages: save more, retire with more wealth, smoke less, practice safer sex, and are less obese. This holds both across countries and within countries when comparing demographically similar native households. The evidence does not support the most obvious forms of common causation. I discuss implications for theories of intertemporal choice.”

    Perhaps what we need first is to teach new languages that don’t stress future tenses so much?

  9. I think pukeloop’s comment is right on. It also seems like accelerationism is basically a certain self-conscious affective posture dressed up in familiar Frankfurt School language in order to achieve self-seriousness meant to convince/intimidate others/themselves. It seems like the mere fact of writing a manifesto is all it takes to get people to ‘have a debate’ about it regardless of whether it actually says anything, probably because of some nostalgia for the communist Internationals and a bygone time when such debates looked like they could (or in fact could) have material political consequences. I apologize in advance for the hand-wavy, cynical psychologizing in this comment but stand by its content for the moment.

    “Rather it converts awareness of such wretchedness into a project of the future.”

    Does it do this, or does it just announce the idea of doing this?

  10. Remembering that the humanly created world is a vast pattern patterning and that Western “civilization” has the almost unstoppable momentum of three millenia of power-and-control-seeking patriarchal power driving it, It seems to me that this image and the mural in which it is featured gives a very stark picturing of the origins of the accelerationism that is now occurring.
    Some of these images were/are featured in Lewis Mumford’s book The Myth of the Machine – The Pentagon of Power

  11. Remember the message of the Staretz Silouan: Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.

    As for “redemptive futurisms” of our times, it is clear that they owe something to ancient apocalypses, only here they are immanentized as in most modern projects of enlightened or radical progress since the 16th and 17th century. The premise of accelerationism as the (if corrective) completion of the Enlightenment also follows the trajectory of modernism as construed by Habermas, only perhaps more dyspeptic and disruptive in tone than Italian Futurism of the 1920s.

    At the same time, the programmatic leave-taking of the “wretched present” which Dan sharply critiques (not, of course, unique to accelerationism) can also be compared to the leave-taking of bodies and souls in Neoplatonic contemplation. Plotinus himself lectured under imperial patronage in Rome, where there were over a million inhabitants, half of them probably slaves, and he said nothing of their present wretchedness, but instead tried to gain imperial subsidy to build a philosophers’ colony in Campania. His followers, according to Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, became complicit in the wielding of power (against Origenists and by extension Christians) in the court of Diocletian. Note the coincidence of ignoring or overlooking present “psycho-somatic” suffering with the adherence to powers of state.

    The overcoming of chthonic realia in Neoplatonic theurgy and contemplation may have been vertical, individual and relatively synchronic, but it still bears a striking resemblance to the temporally horizontal, i.e. future-oriented, soteriology that characterizes both transcendent and immanent narrations of redemption. They all provide an escape valve to the relentlessly tough present, what the Italians call the zoccolo della realtà, the clog of reality that we can’t help kicking things with but also cannot doff. Remarkably, Christianity took on Neoplatonic trappings after the apparent failure of the expected eschaton, and thence had to juggle both the vertical and the horizontal forms of salvation, neither of which was particularly kind to the pain of material life.

    In this light, accelerationism as discussed here would seem also to embody a desire to correct these earlier soteriologies no less than (justly so) the violence of capital and its false promises (e.g. the American – and now also Chinese – Dream). Ironically, in claiming to be enlightened and radical at the same time, it repeats the double yoke of Christian salvation. Moreover, in being scion to a modernity that sagittalized its line of temporality in the 18th century, it ends up falling back into a gap that is the escape valve of those soteriologies it wishes to avoid, replace or undo. Such is alas the Sisyphean quality of revolutionary correctives, or what Dan calls conversion.

Comments are closed.