back to e-flux.com

Some Trace Effects of the Post-Anthropocene: On Accelerationist Geopolitical Aesthetics


#1

Any conjunction between aesthetics and politics (for a political aesthetic, an aestheticized politics, a geopolitical aesthetic, a politics of aesthetics, and so forth) is necessarily fraught by estranged agendas—all the more reason for us to conceive of their inter-activation from a willfully ahumanist perspective. Aesthetics and/or politics of what and for what? The cascade of Anthrocidal traumas—from Copernicus and Darwin, to postcolonial and ecological inversions, to transphylum neuroscience and synthetic genomics, from nanorobotics to queer AI—pulverize figure and ground relations between doxic political traditions and aesthetic discourses. Before any local corpus (the biological body, formal economics, military state, legal corporation, geographic nation, scientific accounting, sculptural debris, or immanent theology) can conserve and appreciate its self-image within the boundaries of its preferred reflection, already its Vitruvian conceits of diagrammatic idealization, historical agency, radiating concentric waves of embodiment, instrumental prostheticization, and manifest cognition are, each in sequence, unwoven by the radically asymmetrical indifferences of plastic matter across unthinkable scales, both temporal and spatial. But while the received brief for political aesthetics is denuded, abnormal assignments proliferate.

This avenue toward post-humanism is a reckoning with planetarity and its incompleteness. Geophilosophy, by one path, ambles from a Ptolemaic yolk nested within protective layers of crystalline spheres; to Kantian Geography, for which the commonality of the earth’s crusty surface guarantees Cosmopolitanism; to Deleuzian and Schellengian solutions of the painterly image-force; to numinous or occult conspiracies of geologic violence; and now to a comparative planetology for which the earth as a mediating polis can only be thought through aesthetics derived from, not imposed upon, the computation of possible geometries, subdivisions, doubles, inversions, localizations, and Hubble-scale adoptions from the outside. This latter project entails an acceleration from the initial recognition of local planetary economics toward a more universal recombinancy for which the political and aesthetic representations of human experience are tilted off-center. From that outside looking back in, the generative alienations brought about by potential xenopolitics, xenoaesthetics, xenoarchitectonics, xenotechnics, and so on, turn back upon the now inside-out geopolitical aesthetic for which the relevance of human polities (human art, human experience) seems weird and conditional. How might we grope toward an inventory of these contingencies? What index of effects would allow us to read this situation even as it is unresolved and perhaps unresolvable for us? To transform our own relations to these displacements, what could do the work for a geopolitical aesthetics by and for a nearly extinct Anthropocenic subject, even and because it refuses the phobic bigotries of “political aesthetics?” If the term “accelerationist” can refer to a reckoning with that post-Anthropocenic exteriority and its extant available clues, more than to the dromologic velocity of our auto-programmatic tiny machines, then is this an accelerationist geopolitical aesthetic, and if so, then toward what rich absences?

This short essay climbs into a tiny nook within these larger questions, and so instead of making global claims regarding the ontology of these contingencies, or about their relative significance for philosophy, or political claims about their uncomfortable potential homologies with the alphanumerics of Algorithmic Capitalism, it instead suggests an incomplete roster of local traces and degraded effects of that geopolitical aesthetic already in our midst. I am particularly interested in how these effects interface with what replaces the emptied legacy positions of “Polity” and “Aesthetics” directly through confrontation with what we can broadly call Design. In particular, we are attentive to how planetary-scale computation’s instrumentalization of Design to model its political arrivals also provides “aesthetic” programs which are less reflective of political realities than generative of their material evolution. For this, the work of computation as a style of thought, while today overdetermined by its economic instrumentality, is held open by the final incompleteness of algorithmic indeterminacy, and through this can directly engender unknown and unknowable political architectures.

But first we compare this accounting of trace-effects, as seen through the restricted pixelated prisms of Design and Computation, to what Steven Shaviro calls an “accelerationist aesthetics,” especially as strongly differentiated by him from an accelerationist politics. For Shaviro, the value of an accelerationist aesthetics is to draw out “what it feels like” to live in the contemporary moment, as partially determined by inhuman displacements like those noted above. Accelerationist aesthetics accomplishes this conjuring prototypes of what comes after the inevitable Anthropocenic crashes, so that we might envision and evaluate our adaptations in advance. Rather than blithely offering pap “design innovations” with which we might spend our way past death, this indulgence in imagining without reserve the world-without-us-to-come presumes huge sums of general catastrophe and stares straight down the rabbit hole. For this, Thanatos isn’t a diagnosis. It is simply a site condition. However, for Shaviro this becomes an exercise in cognitive mapping that may provide “the individual subject with some heightened sense of place.” We will take strong exception to this last recommendation. The way one reads Shaviro’s abridgment, for him an accelerationist politics comes with no discernible, coherent plan for the amelioration of eco-economic entropy hear and now, no clear path out, nor even a dialectical guarantee of ultimate outcomes. It is therefore disqualified as a suitable program for apparently well-understood “political” goals. The corollary aesthetic project, however, contains a useful pedagogical spark that could, at some distance, train and redeem a recognizable politics through the shock of its unrecognizable affect. My interest is exactly the opposite: an unrecognizable politics through a recognizable aesthetics, by drawing collapses, not distinctions, between the two. Foremost because this is to make it utterly impossible to map the situation through anything like the self-regard of an “individual subject.” That is first to go, but apparently not the last to leave.

Read the full article here.