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Notes on the Inorganic, Part II: Terminal Velocity


→ Continued from “Notes on the Inorganic, Part I: Accelerations”

Three pages from the end of his Post-Cinematic Affect, a book that treats recent audiovisual productions as mappings of the spaces and affective modulations of neoliberal capitalism, Steven Shaviro finally names what he has been making a case for throughout the book: “accelerationist aesthetics.”1 Coined by Benjamin Noys, “accelerationism” is the name that has been given to a political tactics that comes down from Deleuze & Guattari, the Lyotard of Libidinal Economy, Nick Land, and others.2 Embracing capitalism’s penchant for always undoing more and more in its quest for self-perpetuation and growth, for treating any blockage as an incentive to crank up its rhythms, accelerationism experiments with the possibility of speeding up and intensifying capitalist relations and ways of living, exacerbating its dissolutions and its velocities, until something breaks. Accelerationism aims to rev up crisis and render it unsustainable, to pipe even more energy into processes of social fracture, to exacerbate the fragmentation of experience, and to intensify sensorial overload and subjective dispersal in order to drive masochistically toward an incompatibility between capitalism and forms of excess it can’t accommodate. Counterintuitive for kids brought up on the delights of critique and its penchant for refusing complicity with the dominant order, one no longer resists these tendencies. Instead, one accelerates until the scaffolding and the logic that hold it all together burst asunder. Hyperactive production is recoded as turbo-destruction and vice versa.3

Shaviro’s project revolves around an effort to understand, to affectively and cognitively map, four important elements or “‘diagrams’ of the contemporary social field,” from Deleuze’s control society to the delirious financial flows of neoliberal economies.4 He maps these through the prism of specific audiovisual objects, with the goal of “develop[ing] an account of what it feels like to live in the early twenty-first century.”5 He finds, for instance, in Olivier Assayas’s Boarding Gate (2007) a film that can “shock us into a heightened awareness of the new configurations of social and narrative space that have emerged in the last thirty years or so, along with the rise of digital technologies, and with the post-Fordist, neoliberal reorganization of capitalism.”6 Shaviro finds that the film’s ability to transduce the “impalpable flows and forces of finance into images and sounds” resides in a number of factors: its quality as a “convoluted and circuitous” thriller with an unclear and menacing ending; its challenge to “linear causality and narrative logic”; the roaming and hyperactive camera that can’t accommodate long takes because the very ontological qualities of forces and flows can’t be “captured” in this way; the use of the “service industries” of prostitution, murder for hire, and drug dealing as stand-ins for the immaterial labor and the dissolution of the work/leisure distinction that characterizes cognitive capitalism; the way in which Assayas moves his protagonist, Sandra (played by Asia Argento), such that she becomes tightly bound to the atmosphere of the spaces she traverses.

The film has no general ambience that is transmitted from one space (say, from an import/export company’s warehouse in one scene) to another (a luxury apartment in a different scene). There is only a range of distinct atmospheres, and each one is inseparable from the space in which the characters find themselves. This creates a certain claustrophobic quality, a constricting tightness between bodies and ambiances, and this, Shaviro points out, begins to diagram the fundamental paradox or Antinomy of neoliberal globalization: if the space and movement of transnational capital is abstract and seemingly disembodied, it is also “suffocatingly close and intimate,” “hyperbolically present.”7 It is constantly affecting our bodies and modulating our subjectivities.

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