Nick Land: Shuggoth’s Revenge

Capitalism is still accelerating, even though it has already realized novelties beyond any previous human imagining. After all, what is human imagination? It is a relatively paltry thing, merely a sub-product of the neural activity of a species of terrestrial primate.

– Nick Land, Critique of Transcendental Miserablism

Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier adeptly situate this swan song at the end of their book of Nick Land’s essays, Fanged Noumena. If one were to take this essay as a finis, a final statement of the departed philosopher-turned-social-critic then it would have to be his swan song for lost hope, for all those who once believed in alternative economies, alternative societies. Instead of lost causes in Slavoj Zizek’s sense we get the dark enlightenment of Landianism: a supercapitalism of thanatropic intensive predation without end. For it is here more than anywhere that Land enters the ranks of those neoreactionary forces he so well chronicles on his blog Outside In.

In his diatribe against the old guard he opens the pit and tries to bury Marxism: “The Marxist dream of dynamism without competition was merely a dream, an old monotheistic dream re-stated, the wolf lying down with the lamb.” And, for all those who dream of hope, of a post-capitalist world free of consumerism he reiterates his stance: ” ‘Post-capitalism’ has no real meaning except an end to the engine of change.” In Land’s new SimWorld he forcasts the future as fiction: reality turned inside out, or outside in. It’s as if he had taken Baudrillard one step further: instead of the simulacra or copies of the real taking over, we have the real swapping out sim-chips from the simulacra and reverse engineering the hyperworlds as reality itself. Fiction is Real: but reality with a vengeance, a self-constructed polyp that resembles not so much our world as it does a horror novel by H.P. Lovecraft. Land’s blog becomes the fictionalized game-theory of the new Zombielands of the future history. He explores the zones beyond our neoliberal worlds where escape is no longer an options because the great Outdoors has already imploded. We are the citizens of an alternate world, creatures of a ready-made vision of apocalypse that is more intensive than imagination could ever dream. Welcome to the real void… Landtopia!

Land, of course, was commenting on k-punk’s (Mark Fisher ReBlog), post The Damage is Done where he remarks “In terms of the current political imaginary, there is only this world, then nothing… Or there are n number of new worlds, but each is a different rendering of capitalism: none would be an alternative to capitalism.” Ben Woodard chimed in on this as well saying: “Land argues that the miserablist collapses all change (or time) or process or flux into misery thereby denying the possibility of change. Land nominates Schopenhauer as the king of this tendency (though to me, without adequate justification).”

Land as most of us know went through his mad Deleuzian stage, rode off into the great wilderness of the obscure and then through some magical recorso returned outside in toward the neoreactionary worlds of his convoluted sanity. He seems to fall in lockstep with Mark Fisher who states: “If it is increasingly difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism, that is because the world has already ended. In this condition of mors ontologica, the world goes on, but nothing new can ever happen; what remains is a mechanical permutation through options that have already been fixed.” We seem according to Fisher to have already entered ZombieLand, a realm where even the simulacra repeat the same messages to their masters in an infinite set of mathematical nullities. As Fisher tells it: “Here, then, is one sense in which we are ghosts, impotently tilting at a world we can no longer affect.”

Ray Brassier was always fascinated by Land, and in a comment of the essays that make up Fanged Noumena he tells us in an interview: ” there is an extraordinary re-elaboration of negativity, a kind of non-conceptual negativity, and these texts bristle with this kind of sublimated fury, and that’s what makes them really powerful.” It was Land’s transcendental materialism that drew Brassier in because in Land’s version it becomes a “materialization of critique”. As Brassier explains it Land’s key term is “intensive materiality”:

It’s a brilliant explication of the logical operation that Deleuze and Guattari carry out vis-a-vis Kantianism in Anti-Oedipus. Matter is nothing but machinic production, self-differentiation, and the fundamental binary that organizes this materialist metaphysics is that between intensive materiality, which he identifies with the body without organs, and death, this moment of absolute indifference as absolute difference. Land is quite explicit about the link to a certain version of Schellingianism here. He explicitly links Deleuze and Guattari to Schelling.

Yet, there is a problem in this approach as Brassier states it: Land in his pursuit of supplanting representational modes of thought also wants to supplant the Bergsonean vitalist tradition for an unconscious thanatropism. In this materialist critique, Brassier tells us, “there’s an issue about what kind of traction this extraordinarily sophisticated conceptual apparatus can gain upon the process of primary production, the real as intensive difference, matter in itself, whatever you want to call it.” Land seems to paint himself into a corner in his denial of any form of subjectivation, and as Brassier remarks:

The claim that you can dispense with the need of any epistemological legitimation for your metaphysics by simply saying it’s not about truth or falsity, it’s just about the intensification of the primary process, is incoherent, because matter itself as primary production, or death, is not translatable into any register of affective experience or affective intensity.

For Land’s Accelerationism there are no limits to capitalisms thanatropic impulse: “Without attachment to anything beyond its own abysmal exuberance, capitalism identifies itself with desire to a degree that cannot imaginably be exceeded, shamelessly soliciting any impulse that might contribute an increment of economizable drive to its continuously multiplying productive initiatives.” But as Brassier reminds us:

If you’re accelerating, there are material constraints upon your capacity to accelerate, but there must also be a transcendental speed limit at some point. The ultimate limit is not a limit at all for him, it’s death, or cosmic schizophrenia. That’s the ultimate horizon. Land unabashedly endorses this remarkable thesis of Anti-Oedipus, but strips it of all its palliatives, about how this might generate new forms of creative existence, etc. For him it’s just: “at the end of the process is death”.

Anyone who has studied Land on his older and newer blogs will understand that thanatropics has swallowed him whole. Land is no longer of the living, but has indeed become a neoreactionary Zombie. Brassier once warned:

What does this mean? It means affirming free markets, deregulation, the capitalist desecration of traditional forms of social organization, etc. Why? Not because he thinks it’s promoting individual democracy and freedom. He has to instrumentalize neoliberalism in the name of something allegedly far darker and more potentially corrosive, but in the process it seems you end up… if your enemy’s enemy is your friend, there comes a dangerous point where you forget the conditions under which you made this strategic alliance, because you can no longer see, you can no longer identify what the goal is any more. You end up endorsing and embracing a kind of neoliberal politics or ideology, and the pretence of instrumental distance, that this could just be the cunning of schizophrenic reason, quickly evaporates because it’s not possible to dissociate praxis from identifiable ends any more.

But this is just what Land’s neocameralist buddy Mencius Moldbug incarnates. Land in his pursuit of materialist intensification discovered what Brassier described as the dissociation of tactics and strategy:

…once you dissociate tactics and strategy–the famous distinction between tactics and strategy where strategy is teleological, transcendent, and representational and tactics is immanent and machinic–if you have no strategy, someone with a strategy will soon commandeer your tactics. Someone who knows what they want to realize will start using you. You become the pawn of another kind of impersonal force, but it’s no longer the glamorous kind of impersonal and seductive force that you hoped to make a compact with, it’s a much more cynical kind of libertarian capitalism.

Is this not what Land calls the Cathedral? Land: “Capitalism is still accelerating, even though it has already realized novelties beyond any previous human imagining. After all, what is human imagination? It is a relatively paltry thing, merely a sub-product of the neural activity of a species of terrestrial primate. Capitalism, in contrast, has no external limit, it has consumed life and biological intelligence to create a new life and a new plane of intelligence, vast beyond human anticipation.” In the end Land fell victim to his own success, in a search for a non-dialectical intensified materialism he fell from the Outside in, into the machinic unconscious of his own warped desires: “Life continues, and capitalism does life in a way it has never been done before. If that doesn’t count as ‘new’, then the word ‘new’ has been stripped down to a hollow denunciation. It needs to be re-allocated to the sole thing that knows how to use it effectively, to the Shoggoth-summoning regenerative anomalization of fate, to the runaway becoming of such infinite plasticity that nature warps and dissolves before it. To The Thing. To Capitalism.”

If the truth be told Land stared into the Abyss so long that it stared back: now the abyss lives out its own intensive desires in SimLandia, the fictional construct of our neocameral future (at least according to that clone replicator ). In his most recent blog post Land in a satirical jibe tells us

A blog closely models a patchwork-embedded neocameral micro-state, which is to say that its governance is dictatorial, controlled by external competition. Internally, it’s God-king stuff: zero-democracy, undivided power without constitutional constraint, absolute discretion tilting into sorcerous extremities. The sole counter-balance comes from outside, sustained by a freedom of exit no less highly realized than the administrative power it evaluates. If people don’t like what’s happening, they leave.

Yet, the lurkers in the shadows reply: We’ve come to stay, dear Land, to watch the madness of your nights and days. If Land represents the vanguard of a Neoreactionary Libertarian Front then who needs enemies? One can enter SimLand and live happily ever after under the midnight sun of hypercapitalism now. Why wait? Dark Enlightenment is upon us. More like Shuggoth’s last revenge… if you ask me!

But before we take our leave let us look in on an updated version of Accelerationism. In their “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,” Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek have recently unleashed what Edmund in an excellent post on Deterretorial Investigations Unit calls a “much-needed revitalization of the concept and dragging it out of the fractured quagmire that Nick Land’s philosophy (intentionally) put it. I want add anything to his excellent post since it examines in details this new manifesto: please read it here.

16 thoughts on “Nick Land: Shuggoth’s Revenge

  1. Hi Steven – enjoyed this one! I think the problem with Land’s thesis is that it wears the borrowed rags of conventional Marxism and Freudianism. The latter, is particularly dispensable and confusing. His position can be restated without either: 1) We live in technological systems whose action is counter-final because they traffic in abstract machines produced in highly distributed production nodes. These systems are too complex to control and would be so even if the capitalist form of organization was replaced with something more democratic. Democracy, as I’ve argued elsewhere, would simply turn the control knob up on the unpredictability of the system. 2) This stuff about Thanatos is just archaic. Posthuman Life is at least a conceptual possibility. But it will be life 🙂

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    • Yes, understood. Of course that’s Land’s point in his new blogosphere in Outside IN where he’s fictionalizing a neocameralist libertarian futuristics to fill out his transhuman thanatropics. I assume you’ve had a chance to read through some of those posts on his new blog? As well as his Dark Enlightenment series on the old Urban blog Singapore? I think DMF put some links up above… oh by the way how is your book coming… dang I need to come to your site more… hahah!

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  2. For a while I’ve been fascinated with the ongoing interest in Land in general… as your quote from Brassier says, Land takes AO and strips away its meditations on creativity and political change, accelerating them at precisely the darkest points in their work, i.e. the specter of death. Yet, to my knowledge, the general discussion of him and his work is being conducted by people on the left hand side of the spectrum (albeit, the more nihilistic strains on the left). It reminds me of Deleuze and Guattari’s own fixation of Antonin Artaud, drawing forth their Body Without Organs from the words fleshed out by the schizophrenic movements of his pen. Yet Artaud didn’t look beyond modernity’s crises; he was nostalgic for the power of religion, mysticism, the occult and directly advocated for the reinstatement of binary structures that AO and poststructuralism hoped to undo. But his madness embodied the crisis of modernity and explored beyond in – his is a speculative acceleration that tells us that we too can leap beyond the traditional logic that constrains how we think. Foucault and Baudrillard’s interest in Bataille, whose committed leftism bears more than a slight resemblance to his era’s fascism, seems to me to follow this same path.

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    • Well in the sixties Murray Rothbard (libertarian right) thought that Chomsky (libertarian left) and himself were very close if only Chomsky would add in forms of capitalist anarchy to his agenda. Chomsky of course shuddered at the thought… strange that Land went through Alice’s mirror and came Outside In from Left to Right… strange times indeed.

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  3. Ray Brassier offers what’s termed in the blogs these days as a “generous reading” of Nick Land’s current thrust, namely that he’s fallen in with a bad crowd. Brassier knows the guy personally so he might be right. Occam’s Razor suggests a more direct interpretation: Land wants money and power and the happiness that comes with it, and let the devil take the hindmost.

    In one cross-post and one string of comments I tried to engage at the empirical level some of Land’s specific interpretations. It became clear that that’s not where he really wants to go. E.g., in the post immediately preceding the blog-as-chaos-patch, he reblogs something about quantitative easing, the supposed spending spree this policy has enabled, and the inevitable depression that will result. There are empirical criteria by which this assertion could be evaluated: the increased money supply hasn’t increased inflation or consumer demand, the Keynesian proposition isn’t being supported by policy because the increased money supply is going toward privatization rather than hiring, the US Treasury’s debt to the Fed is basically only a balance sheet transaction, etc. But in response to the first comment on the thread that makes a couple of these points, Land immediately goes all mystical:

    “If the Austrian-types are wrong about this — and of course, they could be, if reason counts for nothing in economic matters — then Keynes is deeply vindicated, and anyone with intellectual integrity is compelled to become a fascist. Whilst accepting the cosmic possibility of this, I would seek the ruinous comforts of madness (or terminal reality refusal) before bowing the knee to such universe, in which the lies of power are the ultimate foundation of all cooperative activity. (There are subterranean ironies to this speculated defiance, however, which are perhaps not entirely invisible. The option of an evasive madness would be refused, because the idea of anything other than madness would no longer be a tenable one. Maniac authorities would reign without fear of any rejoinder from reality — a ‘cosmos’ worthy of Lovecraft at his bleakest. As for ‘intellectual integrity’ under these circumstances, the raging shattered laughter of the ‘asylum’ begins …)”

    I mean this reads as if he is writing speculative futurist fiction rather than actually evaluating economic information.

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    • heh, there’s a lot of that going around, the ‘speculative’ folks don’t seem to care much for/about engaging at the level of off the page goings on so when I do read them it is as futurist fiction authors.

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  4. Pingback: From axioms and acceleration to indigenous cosmopolitics | Intra-Being

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