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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Noys' critique of accelerationism and the perils of a reactionary left

Very inspiring book by Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities (Winchester: Zero Press, 2013). The accelerationismustreit, which is vertiginous polymorphous, can be introduced by a quote of Jameson Noys makes on page 83: either capitalism is going too fast in its destruction of everything that matters and ought to be stopped by pulling the emergency brake or capitalism is pressing hard in the right direction and will be surpassed by the very velocities it brings about. The first alternative recommends strategies of making capitalist flow stop or loose speed (state taxation, resistance to the commodification of things, defense of the traditional institutions from the attacks of capital). It rings a reactionary tone: the left should resist the outrages being done by capital. The expression, "emergency brake", comes from Walter Benjamin's writings where he summons one to halt when a given direction where things are going is inappropriate. The second alternative, on the other hand, can be understood either as a recommendation to leave capitalism to its own devices (waiting in the anteroom of an homogeneous time, in another fortunate expression by Walter Benjamin - see Noys, p. 91) or engage in making acceleration too fast for capitalism to stand (promoting some kind of hyperflow, in the sense of Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, that would be faster than capital and deterritorialize it). The first horn of this second branching points towards a strategy, maybe akin to what Williams and Snircek, in their #Accelerate manifesto, call rightwing accelerationism and that could be found in some writings of Nick Land. The second horn points towards engineering a way to make economic information (that is, information about production) to go faster than capital - for instance, by circumventing property rights through GPL licenses or through crowd-funding of projects. Both alternatives, according to Noys, buy into a masochistic sense of jouissance that Lyotard celebrated in his Libidinal Economy: we find a way to like what is not painless but we can do nothing but accept. Accelerationism accepts all the capitalist maladies, Noys argues, and therefore falls hostage to a lack of radical criticism and, perhaps as a consequence, to a lack of radical imagination.

If the Jameson seesaw can be seen as the pendular movement the left easily falls prey of, Noys would be suggesting we undo the predicament by dissolving its premises. Confronted with the glamour of an accelerationist left (either working together with neo-liberal (or libertarian) agendas or trying to overdo deterritorialization by showing how capital can be an obstacle to production (and distribution), one feels uneasy with the seemingly reactionary paths of simply defending hard-earned rights. Confronted with the pains of jouissance and the difficulties of either bringing a hyperflow about or accepting capitalist-friendly measures as going in the right direction, one recoils to a resort to emergency brakes and attempts to slow down the path of deterritorialization. Noys suggests that both routes are in fact reactionary: they move in the single track where we can do little more than change speeds. Instead of glamour and recoil, Noys offers the image of work - labor is still mostly slow, dull, pointless and disconnected from our lives no matter how accelerated things got. And it's getting worse: more precarious, more overwhelming in our lives, less constrained by rights. We are not yet in the future where work will disappear replaced by machines - no matter whether this is a plausible capitalist future - nor can we go back to what seems now to be a Fordist paradise of security where jobs where stable and didn't make advances in the rest of our lives. Noys deconstructs the seesaw of accelerationism by insisting that both alternatives lack in criticism and imagination about work and its possible alternatives. This is partly because accelerationism is committed to a production ontology: it buys into an image of the world where production is seen as the ultimate parameter and a sovereign one. The blind-spot of production is, of course, work; for someone has to provide the producing. Automated production seems to be at best a blinding utopia for those who are confronted with the miseries of work. What is missing in the debate between accelerate and brake is some kind of allagmatic point of view - the point of view of those who carry the burden of work (see my post on allagmatic accelerationism months back). From that point of view, the left is stack in reactionary mud: either pressing the production talk - work faster, work harder, work in more places - or insisting in the precarious gains through law and social policies. Reactionary and also parasitic and paralyzing mud. This is a beautiful undertone of Noys' book: a plea for more imagination, for taking back the future, for imagining a different track where work can be finally thoroughly rethought. This, after all, is supposedly the left intellectual task.

Now, to be sure, Marx was an accelerationist in believing that one could learn revolutionary gestures by looking at the history of capital. This trait of Marx's thought could be appreciated even if one doubts the "tendency" (the tendency of capitalism to become inviable and generate a final crisis giving rise to something else). Even if capitalism is not self-destructive, either because there is no end to its corrosion (living labor will always be worth exploiting no matter how many machines are introduced) or because the Earth will end before the final crisis, we can learn lessons of deterritorialization with capital, if we are to fight it. Such lessons are part of looking back into history and not simply considering time as homogeneous (as in Benjamin's waiting anteroom). Revolution will have to be multitrack - but to learn with capitalism doesn't mean to learn its own terms. It therefore doesn't mean either to acquire its sensibility and find a way to like it or to be hostage of its conception of the future. It means to learn something about its drive to deterritorialize.

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