The future of Enlightenment


Thoughts on
“Universalism and
its discontents”

Last Thursday an online discussion of “Universalism and Its Discontents” took place at noon via livestream. It was the first in what is projected to be a series of conversations on the theme of Fixing the Future, related to some of the problems raised by the accelerationist current. Anthony Paul Smith of the online collective An und für sich and Pete Wolfendale of the blog Deontologistics were the primary discussants, with Deneb Kozikoski playing the role of moderator. Mohammed Salemy was responsible for setting up the event. Video footage of the proceedings can be found here.

What follows are some scattered thoughts in response to it.

Kozikoski’s introduction to the speakers’ opening remarks was, on the whole, extremely helpful. She provided a serviceable overview of debate up to this point, the main issues involved, etc. (and did so in a compact enough manner that even a beginner could follow). I hadn’t kept up with all the literature pertaining to accelerationism myself, so the primer was welcome. Her own editorializing was fairly minimal. She remained evenhanded throughout the subsequent exchange.

To briefly recapitulate her summary: Accelerationism poses a challenge to the prevailing negativity of the contemporary Left, the default logic of both its academic and activist wings. Namely, accelerationists reject the defensive posture of “resistance” struck by leftists when new modes of domination emerge from capitalism’s evolving matrix of creative destruction. By extension, this critique also takes aim at the ideological tendency to simply propose the inverse of whatever deleterious effects are associated with capitalist development — a procedure that could well be called abstract negation. Capitalism is a global phenomenon? If so, anticapitalism must of course counterpose local solutions. Universal, alienating, and abstract? Surely leftists are duty-bound to offer particular, disalienating, and concrete alternatives. Rather than delirious Prometheanism, ruminative Epimetheanism. One could go on.

Against the “folk politics” of localism, direct action, and horizontality that dominate the Left today,1 accelerationists set out to recover the quintessentially modern vision of a global emancipation, working toward “a completion of the Enlightenment project of self-​criticism and self-​mastery, rather than its elimination.”2 They thus reaffirm the emancipatory potential of science and technology, repudiating the dire predictions of Malthusian doomsayers and primitivists. Kozikoski explained that this broader accelerationist drive to embrace forms of universality discarded by poststructuralists and postcolonial theorists in recent decades puts the fledgling movement at odds with these more established discourses.

“Universalism and Its Discontents” staged this specific antagonism, providing a platform for accelerationism and postcolonialism to debate. Wolfendale represented the former of these two schools, while Smith — a postcolonial theologian skeptical of calls for a renewed universalism — represented the latter.

Smith spoke first. He began by announcing his sympathy with much of the accelerationist program, especially as laid out in Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s jointly-written article “Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics.” Quoting the Marxian scholar Alberto Toscano, Smith agreed with the accelerationist argument that forces of production can be effectively decoupled from relations of production and made to serve different ends. “[U]se can [still] be drawn from the dead labors which crowd the earth’s crust,” Toscano asserted, “in a world no longer dominated by value.”3 Overcoming capitalism needn’t entail scrapping the productive implements it brought into being, as these can potentially be repurposed or reconfigured. Nor is the manifesto’s emphasis on climate change misplaced, in Smith’s judgment. Indeed, he would appear amenable to many of its theses. Continue reading

On Hurt Feelings: The Case of Levi Bryant’s Missing Sense of Humor

Levi Bryant, humorless "onticologist"

I know that it’s usually in bad taste to publish a private e-mail correspondence with another individual over the internet, but in this case I feel it’s fairly harmless.  Over at Levi Bryant’s blog, Larval Subjects, I was engaging in an interesting discussion between Levi and Michael from Archive Fire.  You can see one of my comments on this thread, as well as Michael’s favorable citation of some of the points I make.  Anyway, sometime yesterday, I added another comment on the entry regarding the debate between Spinoza and Leibniz on actualism vs. possibilism (although Spinoza was dead when Leibniz’s major metaphysical writings began to appear).

After several hours, I saw that new comments had been updated for the post, and so I checked to see if Levi or Michael had responded to anything I’d written.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that my comment was nowhere to be found.  I tried leaving another one, asking what had happened, but this one likewise disappeared after a few minutes.  Concerned, I contacted Levi through e-mail:

[E-mails deleted out of respect for Levi Bryant’s privacy]

Basically, Levi told me that he felt insulted by a comment I’d left the day before, and that, coupled with my satyric post on SR/OOO, he’s decided to cease discussion with me.  My reply to him was that the sendup of SR/OOO was aimed at the movement in general, and that he shouldn’t take it as a personal affront.  I also encouraged him to develop a better sense of humor about things generally and himself in particular.

So far, I haven’t received any further response.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, either.  Back in the ides of April, I published a somewhat lengthier (though similarly fraught) exchange between Levi and me that had resulted from a heated debate on the subject of Marxism on his own blog.  He accused me at that point of “hate speech.”  After some further conversation through e-mail (following the correspondence posted in that entry), I explained myself more thoroughly.  Levi eventually came to his senses and invited me back to comment on his blog.

Now again, it’s his right to exclude certain individuals from posting or commenting on his blog if he wants to.  I just think it’s a shame that he allows his feelings to be so easily hurt, or that he takes an obviously satyrical manifesto directed at a general movement and interprets it as a personal attack.  It’s really too bad that he can’t have a little better sense of humor about this, and have a laugh along with everyone else.

By contrast, the responses I received from the author of the blog ktismatics and Joseph Weissman of Fractal Ontology were unambiguously supportive.  Even the e-mail I received, from Nick Srnicek of Speculative Heresy, was polite and largely understanding:

[A polite and good-natured e-mail deleted out of respect for Nick Srnicek’s privacy]

If this means an end to my participation on Larval Subjects, then so be it.  It’s just sort of sad that it had to be over such a petty matter.