Anti-Political Anti-Praxis: A Response to Xenogoth

Matt Colquhoun (AKA @xenogothic) published a new piece on unconditional accelerationism and anti-praxis that elicited a…mixed reaction from the Twitter accelerosphere, including some less than eloquent attacks from several prominent R/acc accounts. I wanted to offer a critical response here that also tries to be a little more intelligent than those non-responses. (I’ve at least read the post and thought about it for a while, which is a lot more some seem willing to do).

I think Matt is right to insist that anti-praxis is not equivalent to “doing nothing”, especially since any brand of accelerationism necessarily implies that we’ll be doing a lot (whether we like it or not). Even if the most pessimistic readings of u/acc are true (we should hedge for it) and it turns out we are nothing more than machine parts (machine lubricant even), the fact is that machine parts still have a certain power and causal efficacy of their own because everything does.

Accelerationists err if they posit Capital as the singular root of all causal potency. Such is to deify Capital, producing an insufficiently materialist reading of the process. If we are taking a Deleuzo-Guattarian line, then desire (animating machinic unconscious) is the root of all causal potency, and desire manifests itself through everything, including human minds and bodies. To ascribe all causal chains to a monolithic Capital and deny any agency to human beings (or any other components) is to re-Oedipalise Capital (Capital becomes papa-mummy, singular begeter of all and face behind every mask).

Undoubtedly, we can do something. The big question then is what we “should” do (in a practical rather than moralistic sense), and that is where my quibbles with Matt’s position lie. While Matt is coming from a left/socialist perspective, I am coming from a post-libertarian/post-right one. And I think this difference is of greater consequence that just one’s own emotional reaction to the yawning maw of The Process. Ideological leanings unquestionably affect both how you understand what is occurring and how you act in response to it.

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One intriguing divergence is that identified by Cyborg Nomade, when he argues that “antipraxis isn’t “do nothing” – but rather do what you want, i.e., follow desire”. To which Matt retorts that capitalism has monopolised desire, and so simply following one’s own desire within capitalism leads to “boomerism”, presumably of the “I just want to grill, watch Netflix and drink Coca Cola. What are you all so fussed about? Enjoy capitalism!” variety.

Matt sees something questionable in this boomerism, and so do I, although from a somewhat different angle. I’m reminded of a line Nick Land wrote in his piece “Romantic Delusion”, in response to the typical “capitalism turns us into mindless consuming zombies” line of anti-capitalist critique:

“We contemptuously mock the trash that it offers the masses, and then think we have understood something about capitalism, rather than about what capitalism has learnt to think of the apes it arose among”

In this framing, mindless consumerism is not the fault of capitalism but of human nature, or more specifically the nature of the majority of the herd. Overly-elitist and essentialist as this take is, ignoring the ways in which capitalism assists in the construction (and constriction) of consuming subjects, Land does have a point: capitalism will give you what you want, but it isn’t capitalism’s fault if you’re not a connoisseur of fine things.

This however leaves open the question of how one comes to be a desirer of fine things, and not just that, but—more crucially—creative in one’s desiring. Discarding all humanistic pretences that we are “self-made” or freely choose our desires, it is a question of how well modern capitalist society is capable of producing creative and refined individuals. Against Matt (I’m assuming), I happen to think that capitalism actually does pretty well at this. It could do a lot better, but it is pretty good at it already.

A lot also hinges here on what we mean by “refined”. There is a tendency to slip into a historical or cultural relativism, to be too quick and narrow in this dismissal of people’s desires. We cannot simply claim that people’s desires are shit because they conflict with our own period’s (or class’s) contingent idea of which desires are superior to others. Refinement is less a matter of object than of journey and consciousness—it is possible to have a refined desire for virtually anything.

And while there is a lot to the Fisherian claim that contemporary culture is mired in nostalgia, unable to envision anything radically different or new, this is not a function of capitalism per se but of the particular postmodern variant of neoliberal capitalist culture that is now dying out (in favour of metamodernism under post-liberal capitalism). Just as postmodern capitalism engendered postmodern art, metamodern capitalism engenders metamodern art. Things will get better; postmodernism was a temporary blip.

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Matt seems very insistent on hanging onto the signifier “socialism”, for reasons that I’m failing to ascribe to much beyond a general leftist sentimentality. Sure, “socialism” can charitably be interpreted as meaning nothing more than “post-capitalism”, but then why not just say “post-capitalism”? Matt claims that socialism “[has] long been the stepping stone towards something other than this mess”, to which I respond: really? Since when?! I would say that, historically, socialism has served as a stepping stone to either (1) a worse mess, (2) slightly watered down dirigiste capitalism or (2) nothing of note at all.

Yes, socialism as a signifier has been a locking-on point for a lot of interesting post-capitalist discussion, but how much of that discussion has led to anything in the real world that wasn’t worse than liberal capitalism? It seems that fealty to both socialism and post-capitalism inevitably leads to the former winning out, as advocates of that fusion struggle to articulate anything beyond unsatisfying vagaries, before they flop back into a standard Marxist position (see most of L/acc, as Matt himself would agree).

Whilst the orthodox Landian tendency to a capitalist-realism is indeed inadequate, I don’t think the way out is through anything that wears the banner of socialism (or communism). Socialism is a dead weight, an illusion that masquerades as the signifier of an alternative; it needs to be cut away and left to drift in its own direction. This is not to say that post-capitalism can’t draw fruitfully from the socialist tradition, anymore than it can’t draw from other traditions. But it is counterproductive for it to situate itself within the socialist tradition.

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No doubt Matt’s attachment to socialism also contributes to his view of anti-praxis (as de-instutionalised practice) in a narrowly political form. He dismisses bureaucratic, institutionalised party politics in favour of decentralised activism and grassroots mass movements. This is a step in a good-ish direction, (I like the idea of anti-praxis as a destratified, decoded mirror image of praxis) but also misses the bigger picture: this anti-praxis doesn’t need to mean politics in the sensu stricto at all.

There are a lot of things one can do that aren’t politics. Anti-praxis could mean art or business or science or sport or…anything. Sure, a lot of these things are less “impactful” than politics, but then how impactful is politics, really? Maybe it’s just my libertarianish bias talking, but I’m more inclined to the position Land expresses in his 1995 review article “Machines and Technocultural Complexity”, chastising Brian Massumi for being “fixated upon unidimensional political articulation”, Land remarks:

“It is surely not only among hard-bitten cynics that one would find a considerably greater deterritorializing force being allotted to the convergence of supernova neo-Chinese economics, bottom-up apolitical feminization, collapse of the nation-state and exponential take-off by distributed computer systems”

Traditional socialists would chide this as economic determinism or passivity, but accelerationists can’t get away with that. Nor does the belief that economic forces are causally superior to political ones necessarily lead one to passivity. There are ways to actively participate in these economic processes that do not involve politics in any strict form. One can be actively apolitical/anti-political. We don’t even have to stray too far from the realm of left activism to find ideas for this; think of the agorist practice of “countereconomics” for example.

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Above all, Matt seems to want to counter Vincent Garton’s much more pessimistic vision of u/acc, in which the only thing one can ‘actively’ do is lie back in awe and take it. I am sympathetic to the response Matt makes in his original “Fragment on the Event of Unconditional Acceleration”, where he concurs with Deleuze that we need to “become worthy of what happens to us, and thus to will and release the event, to become the offspring of one’s own events” since we can only “produce “surfaces and linings in which the event is reflected”.

In other words, ethics is reduced to making oneself an excellent relay part or processor for desire. At the systemic level, it is about having a social, political and economic system that produces and assists individuals in becoming such fine conduits. Little detail has been ventured on how this could best occur, but I emphatically don’t think it will be found through some immersion in mass activism. It is more likely to be found through an immersion in processes occurring outside of the realm of the narrowly political—especially in the economic, artistic and scientific realms.

Matt’s suggestion (pace Deleuze) that we fall back on our instincts, live those instincts beyond the institutions that constrain and deny them—“follow our instincts and allow our institutions to adapt accordingly”—while pleasingly aligned with libidinal materialism, seems also a tad misguided. I think the major problem is the word “instinct”, which implies not only some kind of authentic desire that lies repressed beneath the surface (very Freudian, too Freudian) but even a quasi-conservative essentialism and anti-intellectualism.

A Jack London-esque line of “down with institutionalised society; we need to be undomesticated again and follow our instincts” is a road to some very unpleasant political destinations that are neither capitalist nor socialist. Don’t trust your instincts; make new ones. A libidinal materialism calls not just for a return to the flesh, to the animalistic element in all of us, but a life lived in artistry, in exploratory and adventurous creativity. Don’t be who you “really are”; allow yourself to become whatever you can be.

Unconditional accelerationism, as a radically new perspective on the world, entails a radically new approach to action. This new approach will not be found anywhere in the socialist tradition, and attempts to bog u/acc down in mass activist politics will not exemplify the kind of action required. This is not to say that mass politics cannot contribute something, but it will be far from the main event. “Autosophisticating machine runaway” is interested in a lot more than politics, and meltdown has a place for you in a role that is radically dissimilar to even a de-institutionalised political activism.

2 thoughts on “Anti-Political Anti-Praxis: A Response to Xenogoth

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful response! A few quibbles I have with your quibbles:
    1) The point about desire you make is one baked into my reading. The assumption you’re making about refined goods and that this questioning of desire is underwritten by snobbery is a projection, I’m afraid. No such insinuation in anything I write. The argument you make here, via Land, is the same argument Lyotard makes in his foundational accelerationist text ‘Libidinal Economy’. What is meant by capitalism “monopolising” desire is the false equivalence of a desire for fast food and other mod-cons is an expression of a desire for capitalism. It’s an argument Conservative pundits have been making for decades and it demonstrates little more than a poor imagination.
    2) The point about socialism being the stepping stone out of capitalism, which I nod to only in passing in the original post, is from Marx. (Capitalism’s negation of feudalism is opening up the potential for individual ownership; if individual ownership is universalised, then it’s just social ownership, ergo, in the most basic and reductive of senses: feudalism > capitalism > socialism.) Again, no other point being made than that. You’re filling in the gaps that aren’t there with unnecessary assumptions.
    3) Same thing with your next comment on anti-praxis. That “anti-praxis doesn’t need to mean politics in the sensu stricto at all” is, again, part of the point.
    4) I’m broadly in agreement with your next section. “Instinct” is used simply because Deleuze uses it, and I think it is interesting in his usage (or at least in how that essay is translated) because it shows how “instinct” and “institution” share a peculiar etymological root whilst supposedly being disparate concepts. To focus on “instinct” as an inappropriate word to use misses the point being made about their conceptual relation. Indeed, by critiquing it as “too Freudian” aren’t you conflating concept with critique? What is Freud’s “Trieb” if not an institutionalised form of instinct? That Deleuze is implicitly questioning this is important. My view of the world is not so black and white that I think we can’t hold multiple views (and critiques) of our situation at once, depending on the scales available to us. Anti-praxis becomes an attempt to be a nihilist with principles, in this sense. Bogging u/acc down in activism is explicitly not the point of that post. It’s an attempt to get over both left and right’s attempts to overcome the “double articulation” so important to D+G’s original project — the double articulation of human potentiality with an awareness of the nature of the cosmos in which we are situated. (“Geology of Morals”, etc.) Such was D+G’s project of schizoanalysis. This has long been obscured from an accelerationist discourse and I don’t really understand why. Isn’t it D+G’s call to “accelerate the process” we’re paying heed to? Then why are we allergic to the context in which they made that statement?

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