Noumena deFanged: Ray Brassier’s toothless critique of Nick Land

180694754Ray Brassier’s take on Nick Land is jaw-droppingly silly for someone whose Wikipedia entry touts him as “one of the foremost philosophers of contemporary Speculative realism interested in providing a robust defense of philosophical realism in the wake of the challenges posed to it by post-Kantian critical idealism, phenomenology, post-modernism, deconstruction, or, more broadly speaking, “correlationism”.”

You would think with those sorts of credentials he could understand Land’s argument at least at the level of a recent entrant to university.

But you would be disappointed.

According to Brassier, there are problems in Land’s argument that lead Land from radical ultra-left anarchism to his present stance. Brassier characterizes that stance as denial of the revolutionary subject, rejection of politics, and affirmation of impersonal processes. The criticism Brassier makes of Land are of the same character made by Ben Noys, who coined the term, Accelerationism, to describe Land.

Land, says Brassier, is neoliberalism on steroids:

“affirming free markets, deregulation, the capitalist desecration of traditional forms of social organization, etc.”

Okay, so Ben Noys is fool who thinks a social revolution can aim at interrupting the process of capitalist development itself, but what of brassier? According to the latter, Land takes this stance not because he falls for the bourgeois conception of democracy and freedom, but because he seeks to disassociate praxis from any ends at all. The danger, says Brassier, is that if you disassociate your praxis from ends, your praxis can be appropriated by someone else for their own ends — a useful idiot of the type Marxists have played for three decades now.

“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.”

I am not sure what sort of criticism of Land this is? What does Brassier think is already happening at this very moment? Land only states an obvious truth: the praxis of billions is daily being appropriated by capital for the purpose of production of surplus value. The appropriation is absolutely impersonal, absolutely indifferent, to the individuals whose praxis it is and has no other ends than self-expansion of capital. The pact Land proposes to make with this impersonal force is to accelerate it to the point where humanity disappears altogether from the process.

For some reason, this is a problem for Brassier and other critics of Nick Land. Why?

Because Brassier is that sort of fool who believe he can humanize what is an absolutely impersonal and absolutely indifferent global force. These sorts of idiots — you can call them Leftists — really think we can have a capitalism with a human face. They have to take on Land and refute his accelerationist argument if they are to then replace with it their own project. Most of all, they need to reply to Land’s dismissal of their efforts, which Brassier sums up this way:

“It’s happening without you anyway. It doesn’t need you. The very concept of agency is stripped out. There’s a quote of Land’s: ‘it’s happening anyway and there is nothing you can do about it.’ Something is working through you, there is nothing you can do about it, so you might as well fuse.”

For the dumb Marxist, Land’s argument amounts to an outright rejection of all revolutionary praxis since 1848 — and it is. Moreover, it amount to a recognition that Thatcher was entirely correct to tell the society, “There is no alternative.”

Marxists, and the Left in general, have never been happy with Thatcher’s famous declaration, but they have yet to credibly refute it. Every real defeat the working class has suffered in the decades that followed Thatcher’s declaration has been attributed to accidental causes. When the Soviet Union collapsed it was because they were revisionist or capitalist or something; when China turned toward Dengism, they too revealed themselves to have always been revisionist or capitalist or something; the rise of Reaganomics is attributed to the proliferation of conservative think-tanks or the betrayal of the Democrats or bourgeois ideologies like racism; the steady decline in union membership in all the advanced countries is the product of sabotage by union misleaders or whatever.

Every defeat can be explained by its own particular causes and, indeed, according to some of the Leftists, every crisis is now said to have its own cause.

The nightmare for the Left is the possibility that Land connects all of the dots, disclosing the inner logic of what has, until now, been considered disparate and unrelated event, thus showing them all to be no more than particular moments in the unfolding of an impersonal, indifferent, process that cannot be reversed or halted. Rather than the class conflicts of the last three decades being moments of “anti-capitalist resistance”, in Land’s argument they are simply the process of capitalist development expressing itself through the actions of individuals who have no grasp of the forces with which they contend.

In this fashion, a strike in Seattle, instead of achieving its stated aim, does no more than reveal the extent to which the process has become ever more global and irresistable.

Land basically tells the Left this:

“Had you listened to Thatcher, we could have saved three decades of this dumb bullshit play acting at revolution.”

There was never any alternative, says Land; the only possibility was to accelerate an otherwise inevitable epoch in human history. Which takes us back to 1848, when Marx and Engels wrote:

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

They never made the argument this epoch could be bypassed, nor that the working class could bring it to a halt. The only alternative we ever had was to accelerate the process. There was never any possibility for an ‘anti-capitalist resistance’; this bullshit jumped straight from the fevered imaginations of university intellectuals. As the Soviet Revolution ultimately proved, mankind could not bypass capitalism; it only cover the territory more or less rapidly

But what is the territory covered by capitalism?

In other words, what is the meaning of Brassier’s nightmarish fear that “there comes a point at which there is no agency left: you yourself have been dissolved back into the process.” What does Brassier mean when he asserts, “The continuation or intensification of the process demands the elimination of humanity as a substrate for the process.”

The elimination of humanity as a substrate for what process exactly?

How dumb do you have to be to not realize this is nothing more than the elimination of living labor from the production of material wealth? I mean, how many fucking university degrees does that take? How many semesters of Hegel do you have to sit through before you become that fucking stupid?

Land is now and has always been speaking only of the production of material wealth. The “elimination of humanity as a substrate for the process” is nothing but the elimination of the workers from the process of production.

I mean really — is that your fucking goal? To be the substrate for the production of material wealth? Do you have that little fucking imagination left?

5 thoughts on “Noumena deFanged: Ray Brassier’s toothless critique of Nick Land”

  1. Yo, I’m obviously months late to the game, but the couple of fawning comments posted so far are really not doing you any favours. “Excellent take down of Brassier”; hardly. Your piece, exhilarating though it is for its vehemence, is but a re-statement of your widely known thesis with Brassier’s name and select comments shoe-horned in. It is certainly not a takedown of Brassier, whose ideological and philosophical pre-commitments you seem to be broadly unaware of, whose argument entails a certain fidelity to Land, and whose ouevre you have not adequately engaged: case in point, you quote his Wikipedia article.

    I’m an admirer of your certain rhetorical excesses, btw, but you’re always debating the same extremely nebulous straw man – anti-capitalists, play-acting revolutionists, ‘dumb Marxists’ of an academic stripe etc. – and Brassier just doesn’t fit the bill. He is not Marxist; his philosophical project is statedly apolitical, and could even be seen as a Landian gesture in another direction, an acceleration of the obsolescence of the manifest image of humanity. Of course, this could be seen as relating to Land’s own alleged criticism of Brassier; that he insists upon translating pragmatic issues (the obsolescence of the human as concerns production) into conceptual issues (a crisis in the production of meaning, one might say; which can always be shored up by some new-fangled philosophy or other).

    Maybe Brassier is not taking him literally enough. Or Land, who may have been among the first to notice that post-Hegelian philosophy is really a genre of science-fiction, is guilty of a merely obverse mistake, blurring the lines between teleology and prophetics.

    A downright simplistic suggestion:

    Land takes the thinking of the telos of capitalism very seriously, further than most care to follow him. Re: the organic composition of capital, it is important to remember that how he literalizes Marx’s language; splicing the Terminator franchise into select insights of Marx’s Grundrisse. Land at his worst (ie. when his adolescent enthusiasm for the merely extreme shines through) is not simply narrating the ascendancy of ‘dead labour,’ nor the disappearance of living labour from production; he is anticipating the possibility of the disappearance of human life from an ultimate indifferent system altogether, not simply from the coercion or indignity of production. (Or have I succumbed to liberal ideology, that I appear incapable of thinking the human figure except as enrolled in these contingent institutions?) I think that Brassier is onto something here, when he says of Land: “For him it’s just: ‘at the end of the process is death.'”

    In either case, it seems to me that Land is not looking forward to the “Sunday of life” that you appear to prophesize, ‘free time and nothing else;’ this is the end of the time of human accomplishment, for whatever purposes. And herein consists an affinity with Brassier, who is thinking the human agent as an abruptly redundant organism in a different register. Of course I’m cherrypicking Brassier also, but their accord consists in that Land is ultimately situating capitalism as a passing phase in a ‘terrestrial intensification’ or whatever phrase, pick whichever stupid vitalist/Lovecraftian motif is most au currant; let’s recall that in ‘Kant, Capital and the Prohibition of Incest,’ a great Land essay, he cites the universality of the incest prohibition to naturalize the expansive, corrosive metabolism of capitalism. The prohibition against incest coupled with strict patrilinearity is an engine of limitless outward conquest and expansion under the sign of exchange. By this metaphysical sleight of hand, Land ‘proves’ capitalism … whereas it is every bit as easy to see this as a demonstration of the pathological origins of capitalism in a very particular, also contingent, social structure … But I digress.

    Your exception to Brassier’s remarks seem to hang entirely on his last two paragraphs, in which he does present himself as surprisingly humanist. It seems that all he is saying can be put thus: obviously no capitalist cares about the acceleration of capitalism as a purely technical problem, much less a teleological necessity. That is to say, as a pure poetry, which is how Land seems to regard these matters. It seems macabre to consider a philosophical admirer of capitalism, like it is odd to consider all of the American mid-western mouth-breathers who obsess over the work of serial killers as though it were simple artistry; but anything is possible where intellectual pleasure-seeking is concerned. Obviously Land does not see the point in attempting to correct his karma by feats of moral indignation, seeing as “something is working through you, there is nothing you can do about it.”

    An additional, unrelated, question:

    What about Land’s flirtation with fart-sniffing trolls such as however many ‘neo-reactionary’ bloggers? (I won’t deign to name them.) How do these fit into the accelerationist program that you would seem to selectively champion?

    On one hand, surely such moments of xenophobic, miserly nonsense speech are a surface effect of an inexorable globalization to some degree; but mostly, these seem totally contingent w/r/t his broader project, and insofar as they are either a non-sequitur, or speak to a certain chauvinist nostalgia, at least on the part of their numerous quite heterodox authors, do they reveal a pathological pre-disposition in Land’s work towards the ‘anti-human’ or misanthropic in any guise whatsoever, whether for the cause of capitalist teleology or for decidedly more banal kicks?

    If so, wouldn’t his exceeding thoroughness, for which myself and Brassier continue to respect him, appear a touch puerile instead?

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    1. Cam Scott, Im a little late in the game as well, but I want to say that I agree with your stance against Land’s hyperbolic thought.

      All I have to contribute is just a simple observation: if Land’s orientation or trajectory leads ultimately to the final disintegration of a human vantage point wouldn’t that also include Land’s very subjectivity itself? The problem is Land needs to maintain a minimal level of consistent subjectivity in order to produce more texts, essays, books in general. At the end or climax of Land’s dark writing, the centrality of the ego is still in place, he never actually goes to the abyss but instead describes it’s “horrific” effects upon a human frame of reference. Land’s career, atleast during the 90s, can be characterized as a kind of morbid or disturbing poetry describing a sort of Lacanian Real (the abyss or the void) and its disturbing effects primarily in the order of the Imaginary. No analysis is on the disruption or breakdown of representational self-consciousness (the exposure of the “gap”) which one would think ought to be where Land should go seeing as how he’s concerned with the apocalyptic end of the subject. Instead he uses flamboyant language that only makes sense (it’s scary quality) from the point of view of the reading subject. Land’s texts require subjectivity in order to function.

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