Benedict Singleton: The Accelerationist Cosmism of Nikolai Fedorov

“Tolstoy began to tell us something strange: Fedorov can in no way reconcile himself with the thought that men are dying and that people now very dear to us will vanish without a trace, and he has developed a theory that science, by a giant step forward, will discover a means to extract from the earth the remains—the particles of our forefathers, in order then to restore them again to living form.”

                               —FROM THE NOTEBOOK OF V. F. LAZURSKY, July 13, 1894.1


Benedict Singleton in his essay Maximum Jailbreak offers us a window onto Nikolai Fedorov a prophet of both the Space Age and Transhumanism in its Russian incarnation. For Fedorov death was not an essential feature of the human condition as most philosophers of finitude would assume, but was rather something to be eliminated and overcome through medical science and cured of its dark hold on humankind: “Death is a property, a condition. . . but not a quality without which man ceases to be what he is and what he ought to be” (47). Fedorov was a man on a mission, and as Singleton will remind us the engine of his thought was a “refusal to take the most basic factors conditioning life on earth – gravity and death – as necessary” (498).2

We know that the Avant-Garde of Russia at the turn of the twentieth-century would follow Fedorov and his Comsmism against gravity and death: the ‘struggle against gravity’ (Petrov-Vodkin), the ‘distribution of weight in the system of weightlessness’ (Malevich), the ‘transformation of weight in weightlessness’ (Yudin). The idea of the struggle against gravity (‘visual weightlessness’) became one of the dominant artistic principles at the beginning of the century. The artists began to understand that a work of art is an independent world, whose essence is both spiritual and moral. This autonomous world, like any authentic work of art, acquired its specific characteristics at the beginning of the 20th century. Organized like the Universe, this world belonged entirely and equally to this universe, not only limited to the earth and its particular laws. (Evgueny Kovtun, Russian Avante-Garde)

If the Gnostics once considered the Earth Hell’s main Prison System for lost souls, a cave in which the sleepers like automatons move silently to the beat of an alien machine, then Fedorov’s cosmism is what Singleton describes as The Trap and to realize that humanity’s project, its true Enlightenment and only hope is to “conceive a jailbreak at the maximum possible scale, a heist in which we steal ourselves from the vault” (498). It’s as if one had just woke up out of a bad dream, then realized that one had actually just entered a deeper layer of the prison house of time without a map to guide back out again: an eternity in space of darkness where everyone else is sleepwalking through existence but you, and now you, too, realize your nothing more than a somnambulist on a puppet master’s strings. Except as Singleton remarks, this is no dream, no nightmare – instead, it is “an actual physical event, rather than individual or collective retreat into an inner psychological bunker – escapology, not escapism” (498).

Federov realized the technology of his era was not yet ready for such intricate and massive undertakings so he attuned his tactics and strategies to counter the prison keepers dark designs with his own, setting traps that would counter the enslavement of the earth allowing for greater freedom from the effects of gravity through a new sense of artistic possibilities. He would introduce within his traps an alien cunning, an intelligence whose general mode of operation, as Singleton documents, “links craft with craftiness…”(500), wedding a constructivist positivity that would create artifacts as abstract machines to infiltrate and captivate, allure and absolve, “courtly intrigues, daring military stratagems, and explosive outbreaks of entrepreneurial success: all instances of the successful navigation of ambiguous and shifting environments, impossible to corral directly, in which we find demonstrated the ability to elicit extraordinary effects from unpromising materials through oblique stratagems and precisely timed action, allowing the weak to prevail over the physically strong” (500-501).

Like a visitor from some futurial zone beyond ours Fedorov retrieved the datamixes of that native lair returning to us with messages of life beyond gravitas and mortality. There was no resting spot for this traveler from beyond to rest his head, and for us he offered little or no respite, either; but, rather and endless journey that even if the goal of weightlessness and immortality were achieved there would still be the duty, the imperative to continue struggling toward “more dimly specified objectives to emerge during the outward expansion of the human species into the rest of the universe” (503). The lines of flight toward this future were marked by certain “traps”, certain abstract machines (i.e., such as ‘duty’) to allure us, to keep us moving never resting going toward that infinite goal of exploration and unconstrained by the temporal orders of the Archons or Prison Keepers logic of necessity (503).

“Stealing one’s own Corpse.”

Yet, all is not well in the cosmist camp of utopian escapology for Federov who was so willing to slough off the remnants of gravity and mortality was unable in the final extent to think that impossible possible: the disappearance of the human into the inhuman. “If a trap is to be escaped by anything other than luck,” says Singleton, “to which a determinant like gravity is decidedly unresponsive, the escapee itself must change: the thing that escapes the trap is not the thing that was caught in it” (504).  At the alien heart of our own inhuman core resides the very artificial intelligence that instigated the program millions of years ago that set the course of technohumanistic escapology: its central truth is that we have never been human, alienated and alienating we are that monstrous discord of a hybrid organism, and inforg or information organism that has for all these millennia inhabited an animal system attuned to the powers of gravity and mortality, but now the future beckons to us from its alien realms of machinic life calling us home to the universe above and beyond this earth.

The structural logic of accelerationist dispositionalism – of the powers and capacities of the futural in our midst moving us, calling us, alluring us toward that goal that is no goal – but a way, a path, a life: as escape artists, stage magicians, and prison breakers escaping late capitalisms dark horizon, our spacefaring civilization from the futurial realms beckons and awaits us – “In this recognition we are granted an alternative set of footholds for an ascent into the dark” (507).

Techno-utopiansm? I’ll let the reader make up their own mind… for me the choice is clear: absolved of this physical substratum we live on borrowed time, unable to move backward we must confront the impossible possibles of our civilization head-on without fear or trepidation. With climate change and economic collapse in the offing we have little choice but to make some hard decisions in the coming years, what we do will entail nothing less than either the doom or salvation of our species along with all those other beings we share this planet with on equal footing. Technology evolved with us not against us, and we have had a strange relationship with its uses and abuses, but now more than ever it may hold both our problems and our solutions as we enter the dangerous years ahead: it like anything else bares a double-edge for good or ill, it is up to us to choose the uses to which we put it lest it surprise us and emerge out of our indecision as the next step in evolution from which we might be excluded due to lack of foresight and initiative. We who are so young as a species and hold no sovereign place in the order of things, we are but an infinitesimal speck of dust on the edge of a vast sea of darkness. Yet, our dust can gaze upon that darkness and see light, may it also touch those trillions of lights beyond this earth someday, arise among this ocean where light and time and space are the habitations of our kind. May we construct the futural lives worthy of this vast sea of timespace haunting the hollows of our being like alien dreams of the good life.

1. Young, George M. (2012-06-28). The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Fedorov and His Followers (p. 46). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)

4 thoughts on “Benedict Singleton: The Accelerationist Cosmism of Nikolai Fedorov

  1. I loved this post, Craig. Beautifully written and clear. Were you aware, by the way, that the plot of Hannu Rajanieimi’s Jean le Flambeur books centres on a Federovist plot against death on the part of post-singularity mind uploads known as the Sobornost. If you haven’t read it, I think it might appeal.

    And what is it with these illustrative US book covers? Ugh.


    • Hey, David! I have it on a backlist of works I’m planning on reading this year. Might have to push it up on my list. 🙂 thanks…

      Yea, the book covers seem like 50’s pulp throwbacks 🙂 haha…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s