The Anti-Hauntology Debate Continues

I want to draw your attention to three excellent posts as the anti-hauntology debate continues:

Matt ‘xenogothic’ Colquhoun has responded to Mark Bluemink’s article as well.

Bluemink replied with another post.

And xenogothic responded again.

I want to add a few thoughts of my own.

Accelerationism

First of all: to those unfamiliar with accelerationism or those who have only heard the term in the context of Trump or the alt-right. In these contexts accelerationism refers to the position that we should speed things up to accelerate the destructive tendencies in society. The goal is to completely destroy the system, enabling us to create a different one. (I’m still not sure if this use of the word – mostly present in American debates – has anything to do with the debate I’m now sketching. Maybe it is a result of one of the many misunderstandings. But maybe it is just due to the view that the world is falling apart and a new world can only be built if all is broken down. It is obvious that people with this mindset want to accelerate the demise and it is therefore called accelerationism – whithout any reference to the – mostly British – debate.)

This is not the context to which xenogothic refers. As xenogothic is never tired to explain, accelerationism was originally a term in an online debate. Before I explain a little bit more it is helpful to make timeline:

  • 00s/early 10s: online debate
  • early 10s: first articles using the term are being published
  • 2013: #Accelerate Manifesto goes online
  • 2014: Urbanomic publishes the #Accelerate reader
  • later: many tendencies in the debates get clearer and lead to currents (e.g. l/acc for left accelerationism, r/acc for right accelerationism, u/acc for unconditional accelerationism and so on)

The online debate – as xenogothic explains – was first centered about rethinking aesthetics – having in mind political and philosophical ideas. It started with Hauntology – a term Bluemink explains in the first post. Hauntology was coined by music journalist Simon Reynolds and cultural critic Mark ‘k-punk’ Fisher (I’m not sure who was first, but I don’t think it matters). They used it to describe certain tendencies in contemporary culture. This was obviously linked by Mark Fisher to his idea of Capitalist Realism (the notion that we are unable to transcend current conditions and – the right as well as the left – stuck within capitalism). To break out of Capitalism something different was needed. Alex ‘splintering bone ashes’ Williams suggested different ways to look at contemporary music. It was then that Benjamin Noys used the term accelerationism to describe the strategies explained by Williams.

Noys summarized his doubts in a small book called Malign Velocities. It is worth paying attention to the preface and how he describes his own relation to accelerationism:

My aim is not to offer an exhaustive account of accelerationism, but rather to choose certain moments at which it emerges as a political and cultural strategy. […] As this is a work written out of the sense of the difficulty of defeating accelerationism, I don’t hope to write its epitaph here. I can’t deny the appeal of accelerationism, particularly as an aesthetic. What I want to do is suggest some reasons for the attraction that accelerationism exerts, particularly as it appears as such a counter-intuitive and defeatist strategy. […]

While accelerationism wants to accelerate beyond labor, in doing so it pays attention to the misery and joys of labor as an experience. If we are forced to labor, or consigned to the other hell of unemployment, then accelerationism tries to welcome and immerse us in this inhuman experience. While this fails as a political strategy it tells us much about the impossible experience of labor under capitalism. We are often told labor, or at least ‘traditional labor’, is over; the very excesses of accelerationism indicate that labor is still a problem that we have not solved. That I think the accelerationist solution of speeding through labor is false will become evident. This does not, however, remove the problem itself.

p. XIf

In this words you can see that Noys is sceptical towards many of the solutions offered in the accelerationism debate. But he acknowledges the questions of the debate and thinks that these are real problems to be solved. These questions continued and continue up to today. There are some proposals for strategies, but the question: How to overcome capitalism if it can reabsorb every resistance? still remains.

One more concrete political proposal was offered by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek. They wrote the #Aceelerate Manifesto – to many the core conception of l/acc. Because not everybody involved in the debate was very happy with it, they proposed different ideas and gave it different names.

One prominent example is Nick Land. To understand Land and the role he played it is important to forget all the connections that many people are well aware of right now (e.g. his connection to alt-right blogger Curtis ‘Mencius Moldbug’ Yarwin). Land’s philosophy consists in radically rethinking capitalism. Thereby creating an uncanny view on the human and its role within technocapitalism. The reason so many were fascinated by his ideas was not only the radicalness, but the shift of view his ideas enabled (a very good example is Fisher’s contribution to the #Accelarate reader; you can listen to the talk here. His contribution to this reader is also a very good reference for Fisher’s take on Land.). In an interview on the absolutely amazing Interdependence podcast xenogothic made a great analogy: Land can be considered as the Punk of the debate – nihilistic attitude, destroying everything people believe in. Whereby Fisher and others can be compared to Post-Punk – asking the question what to do when we forget old straitjackets and searching for new directions.

So much on Accelerationism. (You can reconstructed the original debate via these two good summaries of the relevant posts. You need the wayback machine to access some posts, some have moved their location, but are accessible via your searchengine, others are – at least to me – completely lost. I can also highly recommend reading through the xenogothic blog, because Matt uncovers a lot of the lost debates and contextualizes it).

Popular Modernism

Reading xenogothic’s responses to Bluemink, one can ask the question why to argue about the different names. We now have three suggestions: Anti-Hauntology, Popular Modernism and Accelerationism. But there’s more to it than names. As xenogothic explained: William’s ‘Against Hauntology’ post was the one Noys called accelerationist. But what about accelerationism and popular modernism? One reason we found different names is the context we thought about. Xenogothic had obviously the explained debate in mind. Therefore it makes a lot of sense. I thought a little bit more out of the context of Fisher’s work. In the accelerationist debate – in which Fisher played a huge role – he never explicitly stated to be an accelerationist or pro accelerationism. Whereby he explicitly talked of popular modernism as a bygone era as well as an unfinished project. This explains why both names can be considered fitting – depending on the context you are looking at.

But I want to suggest another view now. As Noys states, accelerationism is about aesthetics and about strategies. I would argue that popular modernism on the other side shouldn’t be considered as a strategy or aesthetics, but as a goal. Popular modernism – as far as I understand Fisher’s use of the term – describes a cultural media landscape that distributes different forms of culture (experimental and non-experimental) that are distributed and embedded in a society that makes it accessible to many people. It is about enabling people to look into different cultures and perspectives – forcing us to broaden and rethink our perspectives. Not only some intellectuals (like me), but also the working class. Of course the working class has, is and never will be anti-intellectual or anti-experimental per se. But as I explained in one of my previous posts working conditions and the manner in which culture is embedded in contemporary society prevent many people from accessing the incredible artists we talk about. The fact that the artists we use as examples are often female, trans, queer and/or black is not unimportant. For me it fits into the idea of popular modernism. These artists have to struggle in our society. They have a different perspective (than my white male perspective). They enable people like me to look at gender and culture from a completely different perspective. Thereby they fulfill at least the point of popular modernism to broaden and rethink perspectives. As I wrote before, that is still not enough. We need a different infrastructure for media (and thereby culture) and how it is embedded in society. We all (and not only artists) need to work towards a different culture and society. One in which popular modernism is not an unfinished project anymore, but an evershifting landscape of new ideas and perspectives that reaches not only the few who are interested in fancy art, but everybody.

Therefore I suggest to call popular modernism the goal and accelerationism the debate that tries to identify how we can reach it. As I wanted to make clear above accelerationism is in the first place a debate about strategies that recognize the contemporary mechanisms of capitalism. It is not a debate we should look at as checked off. The questions and problems remain. There are a few proposals that can be considered as useful strategies for another world (in my opinion: reducing working hours/days and demanding a Basic Income as e.g. Guy Standing promotes, or maybe even go further and demand the universal BI like Srnicek and Williams). But this is not enough and we have to ask and answer a lot of questions that were part of the debate. To reach popular modernism we need a strategy (call it accelerationist or not).

Culture and Philosophy

Last but not least I want to hint at a few connections between my philosophy stuff and my ideas about culture, politics and music. One of the most fascinating questions for me is how novelty is possible. Many of the philosophers I write about on this blog feature this idea that there is becoming and for becoming to be possible, the new has to be possible. Bluemink and Colquhoun feature this in their articles as well (e.g. Bluemink writing about DeLanda – of whom I’ve written before and xenogothic writing about exactly the problem I’m trying to describe in this section). This can be linked to the current condition that is so often described as postmodernism. Postmodernism can be defined as the cultural perspective that nothing new is possible, the only possibility to create today is rearrange the parts in way it wasn’t done before. This is the view of a closed world (like btw some deterministic positions hold as well). Thinkers like Deleuze, DeLanda, Badiou and Meillassoux see novelty and ask the question of its conditions. Meillassoux for example writes about creation ex nihilo (from nothing). He defines it a little bit more precise as an effect that comprises more than the cause. For example: if you look at the universe before the emergence of life, you can’t deduce that Biden wins. The determinist position holds that this is possible (often called Laplace’s demon: If you have all the knowledge of the rules and all the information about one point in time, you can deduce all others). But for Meillassoux this is impossible. There are events in which there is more in the effect than in the cause. I’m soon going to write more about these terms: novelty, virtuality, tendencies, capacities, etc. Another question in this context is the transference: Which ideas (and from which subjects) can be taken out of their original context and put in a new one? This involves thinking about how these ideas are transformed (or not) and how the context they are put into transforms (or not). This forms something that can be called experimental philosophy: Putting ideas in other contexts to see what you discover or understand, which new questions arise. One still has to be very careful, because not every idea is applicable to another context. But in many cases you can’t tell before doing it. Therefore I see it in many perspectives as a worthwhile project to bring ideas from philosophy in the context of music, politics and culture. The blogosphere is the ideal place to do this. Sometimes we have to turn back and admit it was a stupid idea (but now we know) and sometimes our perspective is shifting – like the ever shifting perspective of popular modernism.

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