Accelerationism and Posthumanism

I’ve just been listening to Ray Brassier’s presentation on Nick Land’s work at the recent Accelerationism conference at Goldsmiths, University of London with an appropriately night-black, supercharging Lavazza in hand. Here, Ray patiently anatomizes tensions within Land’s ‘thanatropic’ politics. This advocates intensifying the deracinating power of Capital to generate pure, unbound intensities beyond the scope of human phenomenology or representation. This is anti-personnel, overkill leftism with a grisly Terminator affix on its multi-segmented carapace. More intense than a sub-dermal Lavazza, then, and, in the wake of 80’s/90’s cyberpunk masterpieces like William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Bruce Sterling’s Schizmatrix, it made it seem as if philosophy could be compiled in an altogether new machine code .

Problem: death – as pure uncanceled intensity – is not only beyond any phenomenology (human or otherwise) but, arguably, there is no such thing. There are processes which – in Manuel DeLanda’s terms – involve the successive cancellation of intensive differences (energetic or chemical gradients, say) and these are important drivers in the morphogenesis of ‘things’: cellular boundaries, the partition of self-organizing maps, etc. But such processes are quantifiable empirical particulars, not the shark-like denizens of the noumenal depths we might imagine if we took our cue from Freud’s steampunk ontology. Perhaps what has gone wrong here is what goes wrong with humanism when it is read exclusively in transcendental terms. If there is some necessary limiting structure to human experience (linear temporal order, embodiment, intentionality, whatever) then it becomes conceptually possible to speculate about its theological, intensive or posthuman excision. If we adopt a flat ontological approach which abjures such schematizing structures, then the excision of the human cannot be understood through conceptual analysis at all since there is no a priori anthropology to subvert or negate. As I argued in a recent paper in the Journal of Evolution and Technology: “we cannot exclude, a priori, the possibility of a posthuman alterity. We can only preclude an a priori conception of what that possibility entails.” The posthuman point of excision from Capitalism is not a semantic void or empty signifier or a pure noumenon, but unrepresentable only in advance of its empirical actualization. Understanding the excision of the human (or Capital) is thus a matter of productive engagement with the world, but there is no reason – beyond a misplaced obsession with post-Kantian dualisms or steampunk – to eschew the guidance of theory in bringing this about.

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