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.