Thursday, June 03, 2010


From Benjamin Noys, Apocalypse, tendency, crisis.

Noys critiques the apocalyptic idea that we should seek to accelerate capitalism's tendency to immiserate since this produces the conditions for communism -- the forms of labor, the subjectivities required, etc. Mainly a critique of the Negri/Deleuze & Guittari sort of idea that capitalism's tendency toward creative destruction, "deterritorialization" and melting all things solid and creating the "multitude" of flexible, quickly adapting workers is paving the way for the socialist sublation. Postmodernists like Baudrillard and Lyotard get lumped in as well for their fatal strategies in the face of consumerism. The response to crisis as entropy or an eagerness to see conditions worsen -- don't resist capitalism, enhance it and accelerate its tendencies. Push the logic to its extreme. More globalization and neoliberalism; more crypto-production in the social factories of the world.

Hence, such theories Noys calls such theories accelerationism, a useful term for this variant on the old Marxist theme of heightening the contradictions.

The tendency now becomes the immanent radicalisation of capital's own dynamic of deterritorialisation, a theoretical manoeuvre which I call "accelerationism". Deleuze and Guattari were not the only practitioners of this form of the method of the tendency in the early to mid 1970s. In the wake of the failures of the movements of May '68 a number of French thinkers, particularly Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, also argued for a nihilist embrace of the disenchanting forces of capitalism as the means for achieving a strange kind of liberation through absolute immersion in the flows and fluxes of a libidinised capitalism.

Noys thinks accelerationists buy into capitalism's mythos too much -- dynamism is part of capitalism's illusion, not necessarily a real achievement of it in practice. In other words it can't actually be accelerated; it's sputtering along and throwing up ideological smokescreens about its innovative productivity to conceal that. He agrees with Virno:
Paolo Virno, in contrast, and rightly in my view, argued that the defeat of the revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s led to a "communism of capital"; rather than a hyper-capitalism leading to communism, instead capitalism recuperated and redeployed communist elements (abolition of wage labour, extinction of the state and valorisation of the individual's uniqueness) for its own purposes.

I also agree with that, but think it pertains to what is taking place with the mediatization of life in consumerist societies rtaher than the upheavals of the 1960s. I am fairly sympathetic to accelerationist arguments having to do with new forms of labor developing (postpost-modernism, networked economy, post-Fordism, cognitive capitalism, immaterial labor, etc.), but I tend to be pessimistic about the implications of these changes, which seem to demonstrate not that capitalism is in crisis but that it adapts in crises to accommodate new types of relations of production that it creates. Capital may not formally subsume immaterial labor, but it seems to find ways to assimilate it and keep accumulation private and individualized instead of collectively oriented -- life is still a competition, and "sharing" is just something we are prompted to do so that we may be exploited by capital. The subjectivities fomented by this sort of late capitalist regime seem not revolutionary but bound up in narcissistic identity, in individualism for its own sake, in the zero-sum competition for attention at the expense of the space in the lifeworld for reciprocity.

So I don't see how the so-called multitude of Hardt and Negri is a progressive force, at least in the West. Capitalism is adept, as always, as creating the sort of consumers it needs, given whatever current economic conditions exist at the base. Currently, it capitalizes on the consumerist desire for self-fashioning and fame to eke out more production, now that the wage system and the "ownership society" is becoming untenable. That individualism and seeming autonomy within the teeming market to choose who to be (i.e., what to display) remains attractive enough to assimilate those rising in the developing world, for the most part.

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