Breakdown, Destruction, Ruin

Speed: Escape, Not Acceleration

Deleuze and Guattari’s “accelerationism” has been too tarnished to rehabilitate. The idea was hatched by Nick Land, who held a charismatic influence over the students of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at the University of Warwick during the late 1990s. Drawing from Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence on “accelerating the process” of capitalist deterritorialization to make a revolutionary breakthrough, Land instead suggests that the commodity system “attains its own ‘angular momentum’” to become a one-way street impervious to interventions, as it is made up of cosmic-scale processes that are largely blind to human cultural inputs (Thirst for Annihilation, 80). For him, the accelerating speed of capital has only one possible conclusion: “a run-away whirlwind of dissolution, whose hub is the virtual zero of impersonal metropolitan accumulation” that hurls the human animal “into a new nakedness, as everything stable is progressively liquidated in the storm” (80). When he initially wrote this position, he left its significance open-ended, only later cashing it out through a neoreactionary project called the “Dark Enlightenment.” Land explains that the project is dark because he eagerly adopts a “scary” mixture of cognitive elitism, racist social Darwinism, and autocratic Austrian economics. He denounces leftists as theologians of “the Cathedral” founded at “Grievance Studies departments of New England universities,” whose appeals to antiracism, democracy, and equality are a type of authoritarian theology.

Commenting later on Williams and Srnicek’s “#Accelerate Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,” Land gleefully accuses those leftists who speak favorably about capital’s destructive forces as “conditional accelerationists” (“Annotated #Accelerate (#3)”). He says that they can only distinguish their position from his own by way of an empty moralism in no position to direct the process. There is perhaps some truth to Land’s criticism of so-called Left Accelerationism as far as they endorse Maoist skepticism for tradition and enthusiasm for productive forces, a social democratic project for a new hegemony, or an intellectual mission of “new rationalism”—all of which seek to mitigate capitalism’s destructive tendencies without outlining real steps to actualize its own future. To substantiate his case, Land argues that “within capitalist futures markets, the non-actual has effective currency,” which makes it “not an ‘imaginary’ but an integral part of the virtual body of capital” because it is “an operationalized realization of the future,” so “while capital has an increasingly densely-realized future, its leftist enemies have only a manifestly pretend one” (“Annotated #Accelerate (#2b)”). The trouble then with either accelerationism is that neither takes the process far enough, which is to say, all accelerationism is conditional because it fails to surrender to the outside. As such, Land dresses his fascism up as an athleticism to hide the cowardice of defending the forces of this world, namely, the courthouse of reason, the authority of the market, and a religious faith in technology.

A truly dark path undoes everything that makes up this world. Deleuze and Guattari’s proposal to “accelerate the process” follows from R. D. Laing’s clinical prescription for more madness in our “veritable age of Darkness” (AO, 131). He supports the mad in turning “the destruction wrecked on them” into a force of dissolution against the “alienated starting point” of normality. This is a method made for breaking with the inside, which “turns in on itself” when “pierced by a hole, a lake, a flame, a tornado, an explosion,” so that the outside comes flooding in (132). Such a break can go one of two ways: it can be a breakdown or a breakthrough (239, 132).

The best “breakthrough” is “making a break for it.” Deleuze is fond of repeating Black Panther George Jackson, who writes from prison that “yes, I can very well escape, but during my escape, I’m looking for a weapon” (DI, 277). The phrase applies to far more than Jackson’s literal imprisonment in San Quentin—what he really wanted was liberation from the American capitalist system of racial oppression, which is truly what killed him during his final escape attempt (eleven years into his one-year-to-life indefinite sentence for robbing a gas station for $70). The necessity of weapons should be clear. Even the most terrifying nomadic war machine is overshadowed by the state, which calls its operations “keeping the peace” (as documented by Foucault in his “Society Must Be Defended” lectures and beyond). Such violence has renewed meaning in 2015 as I write in the wake of a white supremacist massacre and as an outcry about racist police violence has finally started to generalize. Jackson stands as a reminder that a revolutionary line of flight must remain active; revolution is not a system-effect, though capitalism as a “system leaking all over the place” establishes the terrain for “revolutionary escape” (such as a propaganda system that can be infiltrated to attract outside conspirators or a legal system that provides lawyers who can smuggle subversive objects into controlled spaces) (DI, 270). The brilliant guerilla Che wrote the steps for one such dance, the minuet: the guerrillas begin by encircling an advancing column and splitting into a number of “points,” each with enough distance to avoid themselves being encircled; a couple pairs off and begins their dance as one of the guerrilla points attacks and draws out the enemy, after which they fall back and a different point attacks—the goal is not annihilation but to immobilize to the point of fatigue (Guevara, Guerilla Warfare, 58–59).

Escapism is the great betrayer of escape. The former is simply “withdrawing from the social,” whereas the latter learns to “eat away at [the social] and penetrate it,” everywhere setting up “charges that will explode what will explore, make fall what must fall, make escape what must escape” as a “revolutionary force” (AO, 341). The same distinction also holds between two models of autonomy: temporary autonomous zones and zones of offensive opacity. Temporary autonomous zones are momentary bursts of carnivalesque energy that proponent Hakim Bey says “vanish, leaving behind it an empty husk” when the forces of definition arrive (Temporary Autonomous Zone, 100). Deleuze and Guattari suggest, contrary to orthodox Marxists, that societies are defined by how they manage their paths of escape (rather than their modes of production) (TP, 435). As such, “psychotopological” distance established by temporary autonomous zones does not create a significant enough rupture to open into anything else and thus collapses escape into escape-ism. Tiqqun’s zones of offensive opacity are an improvement, as they oppose a wider web of cybernetic governance without packing maximum intensity into a single moment (Anonymous, “De l’Hypothèse Cybernétique,” 334–38). Opacity is its first principle, something they learn from the long tradition of autonomists and anarchists whose most militant factions would refuse all engagement with parliamentary politics, labor and unions, and news media. Offensive orientation is its second principle, though tempered by the famous line from The Internationale, “la crosse en l’air,” with the butts of our guns held high in the air: knowing we can take the fight to the trenches, or even take power, but refuse it anyway. Tiqqun is well aware of the difficult history behind the state assassinations of the Black Panther Party and the Red Army Faction, so they know to resist militarization lest they become an army or be liquidated. The advantage of this “strategic withdrawal” is autonomy, especially as communism becomes its qualitative guide. Posing communism as oppositional self-determination, it takes the whole social apparatus of capture as its contrary—against any temptation to engage the social, for whatever resources offered, arises a demand to be met by a parallel space of communism.

Flows: Interruption, Not Production

The schizo is dead! Long live the schizo! Schizo culture appealed to a society seized by postwar consumer boredom. “Can’t we produce something other than toasters and cars? How about free speech, free school, free love, free verse!” It is no exaggeration to say that the events of May 1968 were sparked by a Situationist intolerance for boredom (“boredom is always counter-revolutionary,” says Guy Debord; “Bad Old Days Will End,” 36). In the time since the 1972 publication of Anti-Oedipus, capitalism has embraced its schizophrenia through neoliberalism. The schizo has become the paraphilic obsession of Nietzsche’s last man. Its flood of more and more objects has subjects able to muster less and less desire, as seen in the Japanese Lost Decade of stagflation, when a torrent of perversions coincided with a suicide epidemic. The dominant feelings today are probably anxiety or depression (Plan C, “We Are All Very Anxious”). They are expressed as vulnerability in the pervasiveness of trauma, as a constant low-level distress, and through a generalization of contingency. Demonstrating the significance of this shift: “go play outside” is a breath of fresh air to the bored but fails to make the depressive budge. Neoliberalism turns the depressive into the paranoiac through a program of exposure, which unfolds the subject to reveal new surfaces to penetrate. Despite this, the negative project of the process of schizophrenia (“collapsing a filthy drainage pipe”) is as necessary as ever (AO, 341). But just as Lenin declared the revolutionary affirmation “All the power to the Soviets!” counterrevolutionary after a certain time, it is time to retire the slogan “Liberate the flows!”

Militant discussions of infrastructure, blockage, and interruption are refreshing—since the first “free” laborers threw a shoe in the machine, sabotage has been an important tactic of resistance. But with the elliptical dynamics of capitalism, which poses its own limits only to overcome them for a profit, interruptions cannot be an end unto themselves (230–31). Every economic system is “a system of interruptions” that works by breaking down (36–37, 151, 192). One needs to look behind the old social democratic criticism of productivism, “even pollution, cigarettes, prisons, logging, napalm, and nuclear warheads are counted in the Gross Domestic Production,” to see why (Kennedy, Remarks at the University of Kansas). Antiproduction, which prevents specific realizations of value in a systematic way, is “at the heart of production itself, and conditioning this production” (235). Potlatch and ritualized warfare are indigenous means of antiproduction that prevent the hoarding that could lead to despotism (Maus, The Gift; Clastres, Society against the State). Aristocratic glorious expenditure made sure that everything was owed to the king (Bataille, “Notion of Expenditure”). Marx reminds us that capitalists dip into their own capital stock at the expense of expanded reproduction, but wasting money on the “political–military–industrial complex” guarantees the smooth advance of the system as a whole (235).

What interruption is revolutionary? The mold was set by Marx, who proposed “expropriating the expropriators” (Capital, chapter 32). “Direct action at the point of production” would intervene in the apparatus of capture where the earth, activity, and objects are first coded by the state as territory, work, and money or decoded by capitalism as flows of land, labor, and capital (TP, 437–60). But if “societies are determined by their mode of anti-production (and not a mode of production),” then action should be taken at the points of capitalist antiproduction (D, 135). Extending this line of argumentation, the avant-garde taunts the world with a claim: “capitalism defeated traditional societies because it was more exciting than they were, but now there is something more exciting than capitalism, itself: its destruction” (Bernadette Corporation, Get Rid of Yourself). Though this position is condemned by Leninists as infantile leftism, it is the realization of Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of therapy culture—clinicians say that one matures out of the depressive position by learning an ambivalent balance of love and hate, which helps delay gratification (Joseph, “Projective Identification,” 99). But is that not the alienation of the worker from the fruits of his labor, Deleuze and Guattari protest, the fundamental separation of a desiring subject from her means of satisfaction (AO, 70–75)? Think of an old German rock song, “Macht Kaputt, Was Euch Kaputt Macht” by Ton Steine Scherben, an anarchocommunist band connected to the squatter scene and the Red Army Faction (before it went underground). As cheap as it sounds, perhaps the cure for depressive disinterest is the thrill of “destroying what destroys you.”

Substance: Political Anthropology, Not Technoscience

“Science does not think,” Heidegger sensationally claims in his 1952 lecture What Is Called Thinking? A year later, Gaston Bachelard makes an opposing scandalous assertion in Le Matérialisme Rationnel that “science does not get the philosophy it deserves” (20). What science needs, Bachelard says, is a science that produces objects for thought. One such approach is the “nomad science” of A Thousand Plateaus, which forms a direct response to Heidegger’s challenge that “we are still not thinking” (Thinking?, 6). Nomad science poses problems in clarifying what is really going on in states of affairs (WP, 155–62). In posing better problems, instead of trying to solve them, science invites a range of potential solutions (80–83). “Like a compass, not a blueprint,” the saying goes, which is only useful for those who take the time to learn the terrain. In following some technological lines, humans tend to co-evolve with their technological counterparts, or make an even stronger claim: certain technologies produce new peoples (TP, 404–15). So beyond problems, the science of nomads is more an anthropology (or even a geography). Here it may be helpful to consider Deleuze’s point about Pascal’s Wager in Nietzsche and Philosophy, which he says is not a theological question but an anthropological query about how it would be to live without god. The story about nomad scientists and their cousins, the metallurgical smiths, is mostly a history of their appreciation for the singularities of matter, just as Heidegger says the thinking cabinetmaker does when turning each knot and warp to its advantage.

Deleuze and Guattari’s autopsy of Oedipus demonstrated the need for anthropology. Their method was analytically clear: dissect him with an internal critique of psychoanalysis and then an external of anthropology. From the first, all they could determine was Oedipus’s illegitimate birth, which was already a public secret. It was only through the subsequent historical materialist explanation for Oedipus’s emergence that they could plot his demise. We deserve a new anthropology, especially if we plan to commit an act of sedition against the whole world. It will not be born out of a new Enlightenment. Anthropology’s Enlightenment father Kant paired anthropology with geography to generate the first scientific classification of race (and white racial superiority) (Bernasconi, “Who Invented the Concept of Race?”). Borrowing from his philosophical work, he lectured on the topic for forty years (1756–97) and published a foundational text, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Eze, “Color of Reason”). Even anti-Semitic Heidegger knew that reorganizing philosophy along the lines of a succession of psychologies in human history was a grave error—though his negative anthropology leaves the door open to the wild phenomenological speculation of Agamben, Stiegler, and Virno (Balibar, “Subjection and Subjectivation,” 2–9). Rather, we need to return to structuralism, if for no other reason than American anthropology was never (post)structuralist. Such a provocation is not an attempt to be retro; it is a rejection of the postmodern “reflexive turn” as thirty years lost to naval gazing (Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics, 98–100).

Why not a structuralist political anthropology? Viveiros de Castro says that the opening move would be to shatter anthropology as the “mirror of society,” which is to say, to shift the crosshairs from psychoanalysis to anthropology to write an Anti-Narcissus (Cannibal Metaphysics, 40–45). There are a few Deleuzian anthropologists who still take seriously the structuralist project of studying the other: Philippe Descola, Eduardo Kohn, Patrice Maniglier, and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, to name a few. Only with their help can we overturn the mode of production, perhaps learning from the cannibalist Araweté and Tupinambá’s “metaphysics of predation” (Cannibal Metaphysics, 142–44). Yet even these anthropologists need to get beyond the naturalist’s impulse simply to catalog everything that they see. For even they are struck with their discipline’s postcolonial guilt and are content to paint their subjects’ lines of becoming in a connectivist “generalized chromaticism” only a few shades from productivism (45, 161). Like Deleuze and Guattari’s remarks on Freud as the Martin Luther and Adam Smith of psychology, these anthropologists remain imprisoned by their own states of affairs—until they produce a body to perform an autopsy, Anti-Narcissus pulls its punches. And without a critique, it remains too close to “a bizarre mixture of ontology and anthropology, metaphysics and humanism, theology and atheism” (NP, 183). Our conspiracy demands more than knowing how the other conditions herself through the enemy, even if it is how they eat each other; it is a communism that wants to consume the flesh and blood of the entire cosmos.

Nomadism: Barbarian, Not Pastoral

At first blush, nomadism appears pastoral. Deleuze’s works constitute one great “horse opera,” as the animals appear in more than half of his published work. One question motivates his obsession: what can a horse do? This is an affective inquiry into their capacities and not their meaning:

take the horse, the apocalyptic beast, as an example: the horse that laughs, in Lawrence; the horse that sticks his head through the window and looks at you, in Kafka; the horse “that is the sun,” in Artaud; or even the ass that says YeaYuh, in Nietzsche—these are all figures that constitute so many symbols through the building-up of forces, through the constitution of compounds of power. (ECC, 134)

Deleuze chastises Freud for making Little Hans’s fear of horses into an image of the father, when it is really a desire to escape to the street (ECC, 64). Horses appear as the first weapons, whose speed is essential to establishing the asymmetrical relation between nomads and the state (TP, 396). When combined with inventions, such as the stirrup or the photograph, horses generate the peculiar movement of speed through immobilization—the voyages in situ of the knight who sleeps on his horse and Muybridge’s Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (D, 74–75; C1, 5–6). They can be the cause of madness, such the public beating of horses that scarred Dostroyevsky’s memory and triggered Nietzsche’s break with reality (TP, 257). Yet there is little of ontological import about the horse itself; it takes “the earth” to slow one down through an “artificial reterritorialization” to give any given horse “a particular substance to the content, a particular code to the utterances, a particular limit to becoming, a particular indicative mood (present, past, future) to time” (ECC, 72). As such, the warhorse is far more like a wolf than a workhorse, which is the younger sibling of the ox (TP, 256–57).

The nomads that will dissolve capitalism are not cowboys but barbarians. Not self-attributed but a smear, the term barbarian was invented by Hellenistic Greeks as onomatopoeia for the blabber of those who could not speak their language (Padgen, Fall of Natural Man, 16). Lacking the capacity for reason, barbarian is used to paint certain foreigners as utterly black and without a single virtue. Not all strangers are vilified by the citizens of empire. Rather, barbarians have two defining characteristics: they refuse to be educated in the language of the polis and they act with a savage roughness that exceeds the boundaries of appropriateness (Crisso and Odoteo, Barbarians, 40–42). The first jams the usual logocentric means of recognition that would extend them the communal rights of being a human (Padgen, Fall of Natural Man, 16); the second banishes them to the uncivilized realm of beasts that lacks decorum, protocol, and restraint (17–18). Nomads are perfectly satisfied with such a one-sided story. What initially appears as an insulting depiction of their limited capacities instead is a definition of how they avoid capture. Barbarians can continue their siege as long as the likes of Hegel, “an honest subject of the Prussian state,” cannot apprehend “a completely autonomous, sovereign, uncompromising opposition—a multiplicity that does not allow itself to be enrolled in any synthesis” (Crisso and Odoteo, Barbarians, 14). The outside to the new “socially conscious” economy, barbarians avoid the liberal trap of tolerance, compassion, and respect. The only risk is that their ferocity will abate and their passion subside.