Shaviro On The Neoliberal Strategy: Transgression and Accelerationist Aesthetics

The deadlock of accelerationism as a political strategy has much to do with the aesthetic failure of transgression. They are really two sides of the same process. The acceleration of capitalism itself in the decades since 1980 has become a classic example of how we must be careful what we wish for— because we just might get it. As a result of the neoliberal “reforms” of the past thirty-five years or so, the full savagery of capitalism has been unleashed, no longer held back by the checks and balances of financial regulation and social welfare. At the same time, what Boltanski and Chiapello call the “new spirit of capitalism” successfully took up the subjective demands of the 1960s and 1970s and made them its own. Neoliberalism now offers us things like personal autonomy, sexual freedom, and individual “self-realization”; though of course, these often take on the sinister form of precarity, insecurity, and continual pressure to perform. Neoliberal capitalism today lures us with the prospect of living, in James’s words, “the most intense lives, lives of maximized (individual and social) investment and maximized return,” while at the same time it privatizes, expropriates, and extracts a surplus from everything in sight.

In other words, the problem with accelerationism as a political strategy has to do with the fact that— like it or not— we are all accelerationists now. It has become increasingly clear that crises and contradictions do not lead to the demise of capitalism. Rather, they actually work to promote and advance capitalism, by providing it with its fuel. Crises do not endanger the capitalist order; rather, they are occasions for the dramas of “creative destruction” by means of which, phoenix-like, capitalism repeatedly renews itself. We are all caught within this loop. And accelerationism in philosophy or political economy offers us, at best, an exacerbated awareness of how we are trapped.

Aesthetic accelerationism, unlike the politico-economic kind, does not claim any efficacy for its own operations. It revels in depicting situations where the worst depredations of capitalism have come to pass, and where people are not only unable to change things but are even unable to imagine trying to change things. This is capitalist realism in full effect. Aesthetic accelerationism does not even deny that its own intensities serve the aim of extracting surplus value and accumulating profit. The evident complicity and bad faith of these works, their reveling in the base passions that Nietzsche disdained, and their refusal to sustain outrage or claim the moral high ground: all these postures help to move us toward the disinterest and epiphenomenality of the aesthetic. So I don’t make any political claims for this sort of accelerationist art— indeed, I would undermine my whole argument were I to do so. But I do want to claim a certain aesthetic inefficacy for them— which is something that works of transgression and negativity cannot hope to attain today

—Steven Shaviro,  No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism