Sunday, 26 October 2008

Post-Land: The paradoxes of a speculative realist politics.

To answer some of Mark K-Punk’s questions (original posts here and here):
1. Is this pure capital not a phantasmic projection? Yes, absolutely, one which does not exist at present but which, as the powerful fiction of a completed truth, (to horribly misuse Badiou) might be able to actualise its own reality.
2. The problem of Agency: A more difficult question undoubtedly, but one which I hope to answer in part below, though with certain problems.
3. How to evade a fall into neo-liberalism…

To distinguish left-Landianism from Land’s own (surely now firmly rightward in its orientation), we might make two points:

1. Capital in its present form is incapable of delivering anything but inertia, or at least that parallax between a interminable rush of change at the level of fashion and an eerie stasis in terms of innovative cultural or political forms it seems incapable of throwing up. Hence there is a need for a very real praxis upon it (and its articulation with institutional forms). Land's position is a shadowy obverse to that of the Multitude(s)/Autonomia group, that "we are already (almost) there". He forgets that capitalist relative deterritorializations are always usually accompanied by an immediate reterritorialization, as determined by the capitalist axiomatic. It is this that needs to be worked upon, the shifting of the balance of de/re-territorializations.

2. To evade the dark/banal fall into mere neo-liberalism, we must maintain a firm belief in the horrifying and utterly negative nature of capital. It is in this meaning of the term "left-Landian" then that we might position this accelerationist reading of capitalism- as a preservation of the critique of the left, and the praxis of the right, the preservation of capital's negative dimension, and its absolute valorisation for this very reason. For the form of politics this demarcates comes closest to what the literary buffoon Martin Amis termed "horrorism"- part of the nomenclature he used in his pitiful misreading of islamist terrorist activities. I certainly enjoyed the term, if not its application, for it conveyed something of what a less literal terroristic praxis might consist, in the sense of what a non-dialectical amassing of negativity might mean, a horror piled upon horror, a critical mass capable of pulling the subjectivity attached to the organic human substrate through to some nether-zone of dissolution, a Deleuzean becoming crucially without affirmation. Outside of a vitalist notion of an inhuman jouissance, (shared by the libidinal economists) the market delivers not a utopia of free-flowing desire but rather a perfect dystopia of the genuinely inhuman, a non-affective cold-machinism truly adequate to capital-in-itself. The irresistible inverse image of 9/11 presents itself: Instead of flying the planes into symbols of western capitalism, we plunge the financial-capitalistic contents of the towers into the human world itself, dissolving, sundering, shattering…

The question of what form the praxis necessary to destabilise the current state-capital bond has already been answered in part- a kind of meta-terrorism, operating on the plane of capital itself (ideally, in the conception which has obsessed me for some time, in the form of a capitalist surrealism, the exploitation of credit based financial systems for their primary destructive potential. This destruction is not merely to be thought on the ability to trigger vast crashes, which is readily apparent, but further their capacity to destabilise the consistency of value itself). That this consists in taking more seriously the claims of finance capital than even its own agents is the very point itself, and is in a sense an actualisation of Lyotard's gestures towards a 'nihilist theory of credit'. Further we might conceptualise the collective forms necessary to actualise this praxis as being very much in the mode of the kind of Maoist party delineated by Badiou in Théorie du Sujet, an institutional actor capable of allowing the ephemeral vanishing term of history (now surrealist avant-capital, rather than the proletariat of course) to cohere, for as long as required to enable it to achieve the absolute dissolution of all structuration, including itself.

There is a significant question which remains unanswered, one which was touched upon by Schoolboyerrors in the comments box of the previous post:

“To what end accelerationism? In order to provoke a crisis, as you say, in the system, but for what? For the future of humanity? Is this inhumanism, then, merely a deferral of pathos until such time as revolution has been achieved?”
Accelerationism more generally might be considered to take a number of forms, fitting into two kinds of category, broadly being “weak” accelerationism, and “strong” accelerationism:

1) Weak Accelerationism: By driving capitalism towards an accelerated position, the conditions for something resembling a communist revolution might be engendered. In this (limited) sense accelerationism is merely an anti-ameliorationism, which sets the conditions for revolution by undoing the improvements in living conditions which western capitalism (in part) produces, mainly through the state, in order to further its own continued existence within its homeostatic form. Whilst we would not want to fall into a total economic determinism here, it appears relatively obvious (as it did to Lenin in What is to be Done) that soft leftist activities (socialist parties, unions etc) far from being agents of genuine change merely arrest the situation as it stands, frequently operating as part of the axiomatic machinery ensuring the stability of the homeostatic form of capitalism. In this sense then accelerationism opposes ameliorative leftism by acting to foreground the structural privations of the capitalist system. Further the utilisation of capitalist institutions for their primary negatory character would work to undermine the consistency of capitalist ideology. We might think of the current financial crisis as perhaps giving us such an opportunity, though we have already noted our cynicism as to the lack of an effective political organisation to capitalise upon this.

2) Strong Accelerationism: Unlike the “weak” model of accelerationism, which maintains the thesis that capital shifted beyond its current homeostatic form entails a collapse or fundamental catastrophe, suitable for the inculcation of some kind of neo-Marxist revolutionary communism, the “strong” form of accelerationism entertains the notion that far from ushering in the downfall of capitalism, acceleration beyond a certain point radically alters the nature of the processes of capital itself. Here acceleration is not a means to a crisis in the system, but rather a radical mutation of the system itself, along with it the kinds of subjectivations made possible.

Certainly the revolution which the “strong” accelerationist model has in mind can be far from merely a humanist pathos postponed, an inhumanism in the service of the ultimate utopian destiny of the human, or of some kind of vitalist maximisation of what these particular (human) bodies can do. Instead we might think of it as the process necessary to erase the human altogether (as a form of subjectivation), to actualise something close to the dissolution of subjectivity (and the initiation of what might resemble a Guyotadian political economy).

But there is a more serious, and perhaps intractable question which underlies this: How might one ground a politics which aims towards an inhuman becoming (or perhaps we ought to say de-subjectivation) outside of a discourse of either alienation or alternately some kind of pseudo-biological vitalist ethology such as Deleuze’s appropriation of Spinoza’s conatus? This is really the problem which lies at the core of a speculative realist politics (and ethics and aesthetics also). In other words of how to apply a skilfully de-correlated philosophy to the always correlated domains of the subject, (even if our intent is to ground a politics whose aim is towards the erasure of the very dimension of the subject itself). For surely there seems to be a presumption of the continuation of the problem of alienation (or at least, that the incommensurable nature of the current form of subjectivation with capitalism is itself the reason for our need to close the gap). Part of what I am looking for is a way to ground the Deleuzo-Guattarian model of capitalism (which even their harshest critics such as Peter Hallward and Ray Brassier hold is the finest conception of capital since Marx) outside of a faulty affirmative vitalism. That capital operates via a (largely state-mediated) axiomatic, controlling relative de/reterritorializations of flows seems too useful a model even for Brassier himself to give up on (indeed he uses it unproblematically in the original article of ‘Nihil Unbound’ to call one of Badiou’s silent a prioris into question). But even if such a regrounding were to be possible (upon a speculative realist xenoeconomics, as I think will need to be the case) the aim of the exercise, to re-introduce this into the social field in order to enable a radically new form of politics to become thinkable, the fundamental problematic remains. Outside either a vitalist ethology of ‘natural’ auto-self-maximisation, or some kind of Marxist-Hegelian dialectical drive towards the elimination of contradiction in the same, how might we be able to ground the very need for an inhumanising desubjectivation at all? Though we might wish to create a system which has had done with judgement, to ground the praxis (and here we return to the “sticky” issue of agency) necessary to arrive at this state requires the illegitimate use of the very devices the praxis seeks to erase.

Monday, 20 October 2008

When nothing ever happens.

As k-punk makes clear here, it seems that hauntology is positioned in such a way as to blur the line between symptom (an aggravation of postmodernity, the frame, the joins, the shadow of the strings of the puppets etc) and something which is to be actively worked towards. This is because in its recent usage hauntology has become adapted into an aesthetic description, if not a viable political strategy then perhaps a legitimate artistic one. That Postmodern capital has thrown us, like some aquatic animal gasping for air, onto the arid beaches at the end of history is, for me at least, unquestionably accurate. That hauntology might be used as a way of conceptualising the gaps in the seamless blur of PoMo retronecrotic hyper-fashion is also possible. But what I would wish to contend is that whilst hauntology is distinguishable from postmodernity to the extent that it acts as its critique via denaturalisation, this critique remains within the bounds of postmodernity itself, within its circular logics and traps, an auto-criticism which whilst rendering postmodernity self-aware achieves little as the condition itself is surely predicated upon a kind of hyper-self awareness already (though as previously noted hauntology proceeds by a process of aching mourning rather than ironic detachment). Hauntology is a symtomatology, yes, but it not a cure. As the cultural logic of late capital, PoMo thrives upon contradiction, upon the ultimately flimsy nature of its chameleon facades. That it proceeds through a state of mourning also appears highly problematic. Mark has argued in the past that hauntology acts as an exploration of the nostalgia mode, rather than being nostalgic in and of itself, and perhaps thinking of such explorations as being a new aesthetic territory, as using the condition of postmodernity as the ground in which to open up new territory to create within (i.e. to use the accumulated ghost-material of a culture devoted to a near infinite accumulation of self-documentation, recording etc) is a seductive solution to the aesthetic deadlock which appears to afflict popular culture. But it remains debateable firstly as to how far many hauntological works actually interrogate their temporo-cultural ground rather than merely sliding into outright nostalgia, and secondly as to how far even those which do so are operating as anything more than a holding pattern, or a more sophisticated version of the usual Postmodern shuffling of pre-existing possibilities.

To truly escape the ouroboric contours of late capital requires a different process of denaturalisation, which begins by attempting to think the processes of capital outside of its correlation (positively or negatively construed) to the human (or at least, as far as this is possible). That this might undergird an accelerationist position does not necessitate the naturalisation of capital, the very opposite in fact. What we are looking for in part is a point of structural weakness, a point wherein the logic of postmodernity not only fails to operate seamlessly (or where the seams themselves confirm the impossibility of change) but actually assists a radical political praxis. In a sense xenoeconomics might offer us a way to use Badiou’s notion of structural instability within regimes of presentation and representation, but in an extremely heterodox manner which he himself would surely abjure.

“Much as I with it weren't the case”, writes k-punk, “it isn't possible to bring back modernism by force of will alone.” But surely what we must consider, if not in-itself then at least in terms of how we might bring it about, is not the return of modernism but the arrival of a new (perhaps, or at the very least) a currently properly unthinkable temporo-cultural episteme. Or is it the case that "the new" itself is linked so strongly with modernism that only a return can perversely engender a forward-directed breakthrough? This remains unconvincing, if only because it remains enmeshed inside the late-capitalist logic, and seems to lead at best only to the deployment of another attractive facade. For indeed, 'modernism' is already able to return, and does so endlessly, but as yet another “face” of postmodernity… Further, the uncomfortable resonances between hauntology and the melancholic spectral remnants of the contemporary political left remain- if hauntology is the aesthetic wing, wither its political correlate? The paradoxes of a conservative necro-modernism hang unresolved.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Xenoeconomics and Capital Unbound.

A question remains open as to the current state of play with the unfolding trans-global financial deleveraging and subsequent mass-governmental bank buyout: Is this a genuinely unprecedented situation or simply the latest facet of business-as-usual, a crisis in the system, or merely a crisis of the system? The pessimism of the intellect suggests the latter, another arresting of the genuinely alien development of the capital-virus, in favour of the maintaining of a stable form. The optimism of the will though suggests that there might be the basis in the opprobrium that finance capital is now attracting (low level intensity but extremely broad in terms of numbers) for some kind of new proletarian leftist movement. BUT, and crucially, it is difficult to identify either a new and energised ideological/political-philosophical position or any kind of institutional framework (party, movement, mass, guerrilla attack group etc) with which to focus this negativity. There are certainly some limited Socialist Worker/Stop the War associated protests, but these lack both scale and the energy of new ideas. All that is on offer there is warmed over leftism/anticapitalism, without the energy of anywhere but back to go (essentially a conservative-radicalism perhaps). In the bending of all history against that impassable perimeter of the Postmodern terminus even radical leftism is fundamentally a mere shuffling of a pre-existing deck of possibilities, hopeless, haunted, an echo, homeless, nostalgic. It must be feared that for as long as it is thus the left remains incapable of defeating the status quo, or achieving much beyond the establishment of briefly extant semi-autonomous zones, all-too rapidly snuffed out.

Perhaps what this crash offers however is a chink in the armour of late capital, a Badiouian event, evading the usual in-situational structural determinations. In a sense Badiou would not recognise (economic) it really does give an opportunity (as did the crash of 1929) to recalibrate both the state-market relation and the type of economic theory deployed by governments. But this will be merely to retrench, to stabilise, to maintain the present system, in a new form, by whatever means necessary and available. Politically it is less clear, for in order that the potential this event offers to be fully exploited, we need a politics capable of fully evading even the kind of generic humanism Badiou's politics (for example) proffers. For the impasse of the end of history can only be properly surmounted by a final nihilistic overcoming of humanism-- in a sense even Badiou fails this test, his minimal-communist humanism not going far enough. What perhaps this might entail is a rethinking of a revolutionary position, built on the basis of a rethinking of the very notion of value itself.

In Speculative Realist terms, what is necessary is to think the in-itself of capitalism outside of any correlation to the human. Ray Brassier has already hinted at this in his original “Nihil Unbound” article on Badiou, Deleuze & Guattari and Capitalism. For surely what all analyses of capitalism have presumed to date is the capitalist ‘for-us’ (construed in positive or negative terms), whereas capital is ultimately a machine which has almost no relation to humanity whatsoever, it intersects with us, it has us as moving parts, but it ultimately is not of or for-us. Capital properly thought is a vast inhuman form, a genuinely alien life form (in that it is entirely non-organic) of which we know all-too-little. A new investigation of this form must proceed precisely as an anti-anthropomorphic cartography, a study in alien finance, a Xenoeconomics. Brassier himself has shied away in the last few years from a detailed discussion of capitalism, but I believe that the most interesting applications of speculative realist philosophy may well arrive with precisely a re-reading of both Marx’s and Deleuze & Guattari’s models of capitalism. Marx’s labour theory of value fails to think the capitalist in-itself, the ability to create value ex nihilo (ie- credit, and all financial instruments constructed from variations on this theme). For Marx credit, ‘virtual capital’ and speculation built upon it is “the highest form of madness”. Instead we ought to think of credit-based ‘virtual’ capital as the highest form of capital. This is not a mere semantic shift, but rather a revolutionary inversion of the LTV, following Deleuze & Guattari in considering capitalism-as-process, conducted upon pre-existing social forms, disassembling and reassembling them to suit its own nefarious and presently obscure ends. As process rather than concrete ‘thing’ we must consider its true nature to be contained in its destination, rather than the primitive building blocks from which it originally constituted itself (ie- in the worlds of ‘virtual’ capital rather than the alienation of human labour, which is surely merely an initial staging post).

Part of what is at stake here is the thinking of capitalism outside of alienation. For if we are to follow Badiou’s stab at an unmitigated inhumanism, a total leap beyond the suffering animal model of godless democratic-materialist bio-linguistic humanism, as surely we must, then a theory of value cannot be predicated upon this original suffering, the voodoo process of soul-theft at the core of the alienation of labour in the commodity form. To build a model of capitalism from a new theory of value is necessary if we are to evade the traps of both democratic materialist commensically corrupt liberalism, and the post modern end of history. The “blind acephelous polymorph” that is capital must be embraced, but not from the point of view of some naïve enthusiasm or sentiment of hope that markets can deliver utopia. Instead, as the way out of the binaries of a leftism which is utterly and irretrievably moribund, and a neo-liberal economics which is ideologically bankrupt, we must bend both together in the face of an inhuman and indefatigable capitalism, to think how we might inculcate a new form of radically inhuman subjectivation. This entails the retrieval of the communist project for a new man, AND the liberation of the neo-liberal quest for a capitalism unbound, from both its subterranean dependence upon the state and the skeletal humanist discursive a priori which animates its ideological forms.

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In thinking how to deliver this subjectivation, an unbinding towards the absolute, an absolute adequation of post-human subjectivity to capital, the crucial concept must be that of institutionalisation- agglomerative masses of power (including states, corporations, NGOs, religions, discrete humans) all of which need to be dissolved. In a sense this is a continuation and merging of both Marxist-Leninist Communism and Neo-liberal capitalism, but where there is no need to take over the state, but rather to utilise capitalism as an engine with which to obliterate nation states. However, to merely do this would be entirely insufficient, as the state function within capitalism would simply be taken over by institutional figures such as corporations, which must therefore also be dissolved. But this is merely to think at the scale of large institutional actors, we must also continue this drive towards dissolution, (to be powered by the pure force of a nihilistic capitalism-unbound) towards what Foucault termed, in a Nietzschean manner in The Order of Things, ‘man’ (clarified by Deleuze as the ‘man-form’ the kind of self-conception dependant upon the foldings of the analytic of finitude). The question also needs to be asked of how to recalibrate this alien lifeform towards forms of dissolution which do not immediately restructure with conservative/familial types of subjectivation. Our contention (following Deleuze) is that this is intrinsically bound up with the metabolic rate of capitalism, currently constrained by its symbiotic relationship to the state, which maintains the expansion of capital within a homeostatic formula sufficient to prevent its most destructive potentials from being actualised. What is necessary (breaking with Deleuze) is to utilise the stuctures of capitalism against the state, in an entirely terroristic fashion, so as to transform the very nature of the nightmarish Lovecraftian creature itself. Finally, we might consider that the maxim of the politics which results from such xenoeconomical analyses to run as follows: "capitalism against the human".