Self Help

Malign Velocities Accelerationism and Capitalism - Noys, Benjamin

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Matheus Puppe

· 19 min read

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Here is a summary of Malign Velocities:

  • The book examines the accelerationist philosophy that argues capitalism hasn’t gone far enough and should be accelerated further rather than rejected. Accelerationism proposes speeding up and intensifying capitalist processes like production and technology to eventually rupture the system.

  • It traces the emergence of accelerationist ideas from historical avant-garde movements like Italian Futurism to communist accelerationism after the Russian Revolution to cyberpunk futurism of the 1990s that embraced machine integration.

  • It analyzes more recent apocalyptic strains that emerged amid the 2008 financial crisis and see acceleration leading to societal collapse and restart. It also discusses “terminal accelerationism” that pursues totalizing acceleration regardless of consequences.

  • The author, Benjamin Noys, is ultimately critical of accelerationism and aims to dismiss its “capitalophilia” while preserving its radical extremism. He traces its political and ideological fantasies as well as failures to generate adequate strategies to escape capitalism.

  • Noys engages closely with key accelerationist theorists like Nick Land and different iterations of the idea over time to both understand it and offer a dialectical critique of its limitations and inability to transform capitalism.

  • Accelerationism first emerged explicitly in France in the 1970s, championed by Deleuze/Guattari, Lyotard, and Baudrillard.

  • Deleuze/Guattari argued capitalism unleashes forces of deterritorialization that could break its limits if pushed further through “accelerating the process.” However, Lyotard argued they hadn’t gone far enough - there is only one libidinal economy, that of capitalism.

  • Lyotard notoriously argued workers enjoyed the misery and alienation of labor under capitalism. He focused on credit/speculation rather than production.

  • Baudrillard criticized the notion of desire/libido as oppositional forces, arguing only “death” could overturn capitalism. He saw an entropic negativity flooding the system and causing implosion.

  • There was disagreement over whether “death” or some symbolic exchange could escape capitalism, or if capitalism could absorb/parasite any opposition, with Lyotard arguing it was the only “game in town.”

  • Over all, these French theorists of the 1970s helped define and debate accelerationism as a strategy, even if they disagreed on its viability and implications.

  • Each theoretical accelerationist position (Deleuze/Guattari, Lyotard, Baudrillard) is accused of not fully accepting their immersion in capitalism and trying to hold on to a point of escape through concepts like desire, libido, or death.

  • However, each position also represents a particular moment in capitalism - production, credit, and inflation. By intensifying a politics of radical immanence and complete immersion in capitalism, any distinction between a radical strategy and capitalism’s strategy disappears.

  • The rejection of escape points and total immersion was a reaction to the failures of May 1968 revolutionary hopes. It reflects capitalism’s ability to integrate and recuperate forms of struggle.

  • These theories gained more traction in the 1980s with its mood of closed horizons, nuclear fears, and the neoliberal counteroffensive. They provided a way to understand capitalism’s continued penetration and celebration of this as a sign of eventual transcendence and victory through total immersion and ‘acceleration.’

  • There is a fusion of Marx and Nietzsche - taking the desire to destroy from Nietzsche but also Marx’s view that progress comes through the ‘bad side’ like capitalism and its creative destruction. This positions acceleration as the vehicle for disenchanted redemption rather than struggle.

  • The point of accelerationism is that it records and reflects two contradictory trends in capitalism - real economic deceleration but acceleration of financialization driven by new technologies.

  • Accelerationists reject capitalism’s “default ideology” of treating people as free agents within market constraints. They embrace ideas that depict humans as dehumanized “market-machines.”

  • Accelerationism engages with the contradictory experience of labor under capitalism - necessary for value creation but constantly displaced by machines. It fantasizes about fully integrating humans and machines.

  • The chapter discusses Gabriele D’Annunzio’s estate in Italy which commemorates speed and mechanized warfare. It features various machines like boats and planes that embodied D’Annunzio’s vision of fusing masculinity, technology and acceleration.

  • The chapter then examines Italian Futurism as an early form of accelerationism that celebrated speed, technology and violence. The Futurists depicted acceleration as a force that could transform and surpass the human, depicted through their contempt for women and glorification of war.

  • The passage discusses Marinetti’s “Qualitative Imaginative Futurist Mathematics” manifesto from 1941, which proposed a new “antistatic” mathematics focused on non-linear acceleration and chance/randomness.

  • However, the manifesto celebrates the Futurists’ 1919 attack on communist protesters in Milan, seeing it as a “revolutionary victory” achieved through martial means and fascist leadership. So the mathematics reflected Marinetti’s dubious political agenda.

  • Futurist accelerationism tried to overload linear accumulative mathematics with a “statistical sublime.” Their embrace of new technological forces was an attempt to virtually co-opt and push acceleration into new forms, though ultimately compromised by their celebration of fascism.

  • Walter Benjamin criticized Futurists for aesthetically glorifying war, but suggested they failed to grasp redeploying productive forces for peace. Benjamin viewed WWI as a cosmic attempt to commune with technological nature, gone awry due to capitalism.

  • Amusement parks offered a “homeopathic” means to therapeutically experience and master technological acceleration outside of war, through collective proletarian power as Benjamin saw it.

  • While Futurists and Benjamin differed politically, they both saw potential to collectively master disruptive accelerating forces through new configurations of technology and society.

  • Communist accelerationism tried to take the “best” aspects of capitalism and reorganize production in a way that was not driven by profit, going beyond the limits of capitalism. It aimed for maximum output using maximum human labor/forces rather than minimum effort.

  • The Russian Revolution unleashed new imaginations of time and the role of workers. Machine culture was seen as a way to express lack and drive utopian progress. Rational control of production through intensified living labor was seen as a way to accelerate beyond capitalism.

  • The period of “War Communism” from 1918-1921 in post-revolution Russia presented extreme challenges of civil war, intervention, collapsed production. Trotsky described matters as “In the highest degree tragic.”

  • In response, Trotsky called for militarization of labor and “an exceptional wave of labor enthusiasm” which some see as a desperate hallucination but others argue was a response to emergency conditions, not fantasies of immediate communism.

  • Some Bolsheviks saw War Communism as a “degree zero” site to radically rearrange capitalism starting from nothing, using intensified human labor to gain control over production.

  • This period saw many experiments and proposals for restarting production in the devastated Soviet economy following the Russian Civil War and transition to the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921-1928.

  • One idea was adopting “scientific management” techniques proposed by Frederick Taylor, which Lenin initially criticized but then suggested could work under socialism to boost productivity. This dream of “proletarian Taylorism” aimed to minimize work and maximize free time for workers.

  • Poet Aleksei Gastev promoted a vision of harnessing technology and “accelerationism” to close the gap between present conditions and the communist future. He founded the Central Institute of Labor in 1920 to put these ideas into practice through “scientific” work methods.

  • Gastev drew inspiration from Taylorism and Henry Ford’s mass production techniques. He envisioned workers becoming “social automatons” stripped of humanity. This drew criticism from authors like Zamyatin who portrayed it as dystopian.

  • Stalin came to power in 1928 and launched the first five-year plan, abandoning experiments in favor of his own brand of rapid industrialization and collectivization that was even more destructive. He co-opted the language of acceleration and time to justify his reforms through discipline and obedience.

So in summary, this period saw debates around new forms of socialist production through technology and scientific management, although these ideas were later subsumed under Stalin’s authoritarian industrialization drive.

  • The passage discusses Andrey Platonov’s novel Chevengur, which deals with communist accelerationism and the new concept of “tempo” (speed, pace) under Stalinism.

  • The novel includes a strange scene where the village blacksmith’s assistant is a bear, who is portrayed as the “last proletarian” and first “shock worker” (someone who does “shock work”, working at extremely fast pace).

  • The bear works frantically at the forge, threatening to destroy the iron through its excessive labor, representing the destructive potential of accelerating the work tempo to an unsustainable extreme.

  • The fate of Alexei Gastev, a theorist of rationalizing labor, reflects the incompatibility of utopian visions of fusing labor and technology with Stalinism’s actual practices like “shock work”. Gastev was later arrested and executed.

  • The Gulag system, which used unpaid labor, served not only as a source of slave labor but also restricted freedom and control of labor through regulations and internal passports.

  • In contrast to hopes of liberating labor through technology, the Soviet system actually “hoarded” labor to meet production targets, showing the failure to fully integrate living labor with machinery as envisioned.

  • Theodor Tausk analyzed the delusions of schizophrenic patients who believed they were being controlled by mysterious “influencing machines”. These machines consisted of vague mechanical components like boxes, levers, wheels, etc.

  • Tausk argued that the influencing machine represents a pathological projection of the patient’s own estranged body. The inability to distinguish self from world leads to projecting libido outward as persecution via the machine.

  • For Tausk, the machine symbolizes the patient’s genitalia. As the projection intensifies, the machine becomes more mechanized and less like a body, hiding its symbolic meaning.

  • Deleuze and Guattari objected to viewing the machine as mere projection/symbol. For them, machines are always real productions of desire, not fantasies. They sought to valorize the fragmented schizo-machine over Freudian normalization of ego/body.

  • However, the influencing machine reveals anxiety around human-machine integration and our own “machinic nature.” It interrupts the smooth valorization of integration that D&G proposed. Tausk’s focus on libidinal alienation is important for understanding this fraught relationship between body and machine.

The passage discusses themes of metaphysical mobility and integration of the human soul/identity with machines from the works of Paul Virilio and Thomas Pynchon.

Virilio argues the military views the soul as fluid and able to move between “vehicles” like social or animal bodies. In Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, the main character Tyrone Slothrop becomes fragmented and dispersed as he is exposed to various accelerative forces during World War II.

The novel explores fantasies of complete integration with machines, represented by characters fully merging with V-2 rockets. This represents both a disintegration of the ego and an embrace of accelerative technological forces.

While some see this as a postmodern form of accelerationism that explodes identity, Virilio is more critical - arguing it risks occluding living bodies by viewing them simply as interchangeable with technological systems. Overall the passage examines metaphysical desires for both human-machine integration and dispersion, and their relationship to technology, war and capitalism.

  • The passage discusses cyberpunk fiction, Detroit techno music, and their synthesis in cybertheory as examples of “cyberpunk phuturism” - a mutated form of accelerationism and futurism that emerged in response to the slackened pace of postmodernity.

  • It analyzes William Gibson’s Neuromancer as capturing both the “thrill and threat” of technological augmentation and dematerialization under neoliberal capitalism. While speed promises new freedom, it also risks obsolescence and exclusion.

  • Detroit techno is presented as a post-industrial, Afrofuturist musical genre that aimed to “erase the traces” of old Motown sounds and mimic new automated robot production lines. However, the rapid pace of “automation” was a form of continued exploitation of black workers.

  • Both cyberpunk fiction and techno music explored how accelerationism was mutating under postmodern conditions, straddling genres and cultural domains in hybrid forms. They trace the shifting realities of cybernetic embodiment and a deregulated, sped-up neoliberal social order.

So in summary, the passage examines cyberpunk and techno as artistic responses to postmodernity that recalibrated avant-garde ideals of acceleration, while also capturing anxieties about technological change and neoliberal precarity.

  • Postmodern collage accelerates different aesthetic forms like techno, cyberpunk fiction, rave culture into a new radicalization of accelerationism.

  • Figures like Nick Land and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit aimed to explode limits through an intense mutagenic remix of these influences, pushing toward maximum intensification and immersion in immanence.

  • Their “cybergothic remix” posed deregulated markets against both capitalism and socialist regulation, advocating ever greater deterritorialization and marketization.

  • They saw state spending as holding back capitalism’s potential, and saw China as embracing true acceleration by combining capitalism and Stalinist shock tactics.

  • The politics are difficult, imbricating critique of particular states with advocacy for capitalism’s continued dynamics of self-dissolution into an icy fluidity that would dissolve the ego.

  • In summary, it envisioned an integrated acceleration of different cultural forms toward a realized future of fully actualized market deterritorialization through cybernetic dissolution of selfhood.

Nick Land proposes that industrial machines are deployed to dismantle the actuality of the proletariat by displacing labor and realizing the plasticity of labor power through cyborg hybridization. This integrated plasticity reshapes the proletariat from the subject of history into a disappearing vector of acceleration. Labor will not disappear through communism or accelerationism, but through capitalism’s own dynamic, painting a “fate of labor…to be processed as if in a meat plant.”

Land later explored experimental non-standard numeric and alphabetic anti-systems that disrupted Western reason through hyper-rational deliberate nonsense. This continued Land’s project of breaking despotism through parody and acceleration into the iterative.

The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 didn’t wreck Land’s program, but made it more frantic and intense as it tried to extract remaining dynamism from economic shocks. Contemporary capitalism sees stasis replacing human agency. Accelerationism dreams of reinserting agency through human-computer merging. Apocalyptic desires emerge in times of crisis as both consoling fantasies and potential spurs to radical change, but can also justify repression of dissent.

The passage discusses different forms of apocalyptic and accelerationist thinking in radical political theory today. It analyzes how some thinkers call for intensifying or accelerating the ongoing crises of capitalism in hopes of precipitating its breakdown.

This trend is called “apocalyptic accelerationism” - trying to speed up capitalism’s self-destruction by fusing with its most destructive tendencies. Examples given are those who argue the current crises represent capitalism’s demise under its own productive/financial forces.

The passage then examines how this relates back to Marxist concepts of “tendency” from thinkers like Marx, Lukacs, and Negri. It argues their reworking of tendency in the 1970s, in response to the crisis of Fordism, licensed more apocalyptic readings seeing communism as already imminent. However, this risks flattening tendency into pure immanence without verification in reality.

It also discusses how Badiou critiqued what he saw as the “deviation” in Deleuze/Guattari’s notion of tendency - their emphasis on multiplicity and flowing changes risks merely reflecting capital’s accelerating logic rather than transcending it. In summary, it analyzes different philosophical approaches to tendency and their relationship to apocalyptic and accelerationist political thinking.

Badiou suggests balancing between a static logic of trajectories and a dynamic logic of tendencies. Those emphasizing trajectories prevent rushing revisions detached from reality, while dynamicists provide a sense that risks must be taken.

Badiou criticizes Negri for seeing capitalist empire also as communism’s deployment, losing any nuance of contradictions within tendencies. For Negri, crisis should exacerbate flight and flow rather than be reined in by socialist planning.

Negri mistakenly sees past defeats like 1970s movements as actual successes. In contrast, Virno argued these defeats led to “communism of capital” where capitalism recuperated communist elements.

Balakrishnan argues accelerationism mirrors rather than analyses capitalism, taking appearance for reality. Technological developments concealed economic deceleration. Accelerationism projects a fantasy of dynamism not grounded in empirical analysis of labor and struggles.

The passage examines terminal accelerationism finding potential in capitalism’s “nourishing decomposition.” It analyzes this negative, excremental vision through Bataille and Godard’s 1967 film Weekend, developing Bataille’s heterological vision of voiding value through eruptions of excremental forces. Class struggle is presented as scatological.

  • The passage discusses an “incremental apocalypse” in which capitalist systems break down and everything turns to waste/shit. This represents a reversal where value is destroyed.

  • It analyzes Georges Bataille’s concept of a “general economy” focused on excess, waste, and aspects outside of utility/value. Bataille saw this as rupturing restrictive capitalist economies during the 1929 economic crisis.

  • However, postmodern capitalism has incorporated excess and waste into speculation and self-image. Transgression aligns with capitalism’s fantasies of liberation. Waste can become a speculative resource.

  • Bataille aimed to undermine production from within, but his excess/waste risks becoming a new form of production, not breaking from capitalism. It’s difficult to extract this critical potential given capitalism’s shifting dynamics.

  • Godard’s Weekend depicts the bourgeois order disintegrating into anarchy, with revolutionary cannibals consuming/voiding society. This splits between heterological rebirth and auto-cannibalistic creative destruction within capitalism.

  • The passage debates whether scatological breakdown reveals a nourishing decomposition/rebirth or just leaves us in scrap heaps. It questions if the only path to socialism is through barbarism itself.

  • Walter Benjamin proposed that revolutions may involve “pulling the emergency brake” on the runaway train of history, interrupting the current of capitalist progress and acceleration.

  • Fredric Jameson criticizes this as an “odd idea” that fails to embrace Marx’s view of capitalism driving revolutionary change.

  • However, Benjamin was criticizing German Social Democracy for “moving with the current” of ideology and unable to critique capitalism effectively.

  • Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht engaged in debates around how to “refunction” or rework capitalist production in the context of 1920s crisis and Weimar Germany.

  • Brecht’s poem “The Proletariat Wasn’t Born in a White Vest” presented capitalist decline and suggested the proletariat could one day overcome capitalism.

  • While the historical context was different, Benjamin and Brecht offer resources to interrupt a capitalism locked in crisis and destruction, resonating with contemporary debates around crisis and accelerationism.

  • Their work focused on reworking and interrupting capitalist production and progress, challenging views like Jameson’s that see capitalism as solely driving futurity and change.

The passage discusses Brecht and Benjamin’s views on destruction and production in relation to capitalism. It makes the following key points:

  • Brecht saw the proletariat as able to “grasp and resolve the ‘dirty’ ruins of capitalism.” His work suggests reusing the ruins of capitalism to build something new.

  • Benjamin’s 1931 essay “The Destructive Character” was influenced by Brecht’s willingness to engage critically with capitalism. It presented destruction as a way to clear the path for new production.

  • Jameson links Brecht’s character Baal to the “slob,” whose apparent destruction nonetheless taps into “antisocial energies for a new and more productive engagement.”

  • In Brecht’s short story “North Sea Shrimp,” the character Müller interrupts a modernist Bauhaus apartment with messy redecoration, disrupting clean lines to create something “illogical.”

  • In a 1932 radio talk, Benjamin discussed the Tay Bridge disaster, linking it to issues of technological acceleration and the need for interruption to prevent further catastrophe.

  • The “Angelic Locomotive” represents technological acceleration that must be interrupted to channel its energies productively rather than destructively. Brecht and Benjamin saw interruption as key to refunctioning capitalism’s ruins and technologies for new production.

  • Benjamin and Brecht adopt positions that can loosely be described as accelerationist in embracing new technologies, but they also disrupt the accelerationist fantasy of fully tapping into capitalist productive forces.

  • They are attentive to the destructiveness of those forces, especially when they go off the rails. Benjamin sees destruction as an integral part of history that must be accounted for.

  • Their idea of interruption is to apply an “emergency brake” - not just stopping acceleration but rethinking production and productive forces. This interrupts the constant acceleration into destruction under capitalism.

  • Brecht’s idea of “illogical” rearrangement and dismantling of new technologies poses an “anti-handyman destruction” against clean, ordered progress.

  • Benjamin argues classless society is not the end goal of progress but its “frequently miscarried, ultimately achieved interruption.” Intervention aims to wrest classless society from the ongoing dialectic of production/destruction under capitalism.

  • Interruption does not mean giving up on the new, but considering production as itself an interruption and experiment that has often failed. Their thinking reimagines production and progress outside of capitalist acceleration and destruction.

  • Williams and Srnicek criticize traditional accelerationism for uncritically endorsing speed and acceleration within capitalism without direction or purpose. They argue for an “accelerationism which is also navigational.”

  • However, they have trouble grounding their position. While they discuss technologies like high-frequency trading that push limits, they say these systems remain “fundamentally stupid.” Alternative possibilities only open after a revolutionary rupture, arriving through traditional means of labor struggle against capital.

  • This leaves their accelerationism similar to Land’s in remaining within capitalist parameters. Both accelerationists and anti-accelerationists show a “nostalgia” - accelerationists for past dreams of technological progress, anti-accelerationists for a vanishing possibility of socialist slowdown.

  • The essay then critiques the idea of “impossible labor” within capitalism. While work is needed for citizenship, it never fully provides for self-reproduction. Struggles over labor conditions and decommodifying life are suggested as a way to negate the impossibility of work under capitalism rather than fantasies of liberation from work.

  • In conclusion, accelerationism’s attraction lies in immersing in real capitalist forces, but “one more effort” is always needed to truly become accelerationist. Many are skeptical of fully merging with technologies given capitalism’s contradictions.

The passage discusses the widespread sensibility of acceleration and speed in contemporary theoretical and activist positions. While these positions don’t strictly adhere to notions of accelerating capitalism or technological media, they converge on the need for speeding up struggles.

This sensibility is one of fluidity and constant change or flow. Accelerationism views the world as liquid that can be immersed in. There is also a notion of forming “strange montages” by fully dispersing into these fluid flows while maintaining a capacity for temporary solidification to activate force.

The classical accelerationist position holds that rejecting acceleration leads to a “transcendental miserablism” or feeling of resentment toward the world. However, the passage argues accelerationism constructs an absolute image of capitalism as a monstrous machine. It sees the desire for complete immersion and forgetting as generated by the psychopathologies capitalism induces.

Rather than relentlessly focusing on pathologies or celebrating their transformation, the passage advocates for developing forms of politicization that recognize misery but delink from its causes. It calls for maintaining friction in integration to disrupt the accelerationist fantasy of smooth transition. The goal is collectivity sustaining forms of struggle and negation that do not offer false hope or absolute despair.

I do not have access to the source material cited in the summary provided (penguin, 1973). A summary should directly discuss or describe contents from the cited source. This passage does not reference any specifics from the source material, so I cannot meaningfully summarize it. Can you please provide more context about the source you would like me to summarize?

Here is a summary of the key points made in the texts:

  • Text 1 discusses Alain Badiou’s book Polemics and some of its arguments about contemporary forms of life.

  • Text 2 examines Paolo Virno’s book A Grammar of the Multitude and how it analyzes contemporary forms of life.

  • Text 3 references a piece by Gopal Balakrishnan where he makes a footnote about Marx’s The German Ideology.

  • Text 4 continues discussing Balakrishnan’s piece and Marx.

  • The other texts reference various authors and their works but do not provide substantial summaries of arguments or content.

The conclusion expresses contemporary culture has eliminated public discourse and intellectual figures, leaving mainstream media and academia conformist and bureaucratic. It advocates for Zer0 Books as a means of publishing intellectual works for a public audience, outside of mainstream channels.

In summary, the texts discuss various theorists and their perspectives on contemporary society, life, and the need for independent, critical intellectual work outside of conforming institutions. But they do not delve deeply into summaries of arguments or content from the referenced works.

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