Prometheus on the Frontier: Acceleration and Myth (pt 1)

15May13

At the Speculative Aesthetics conference back in March, Ray Brassier connected ‘the new accelerationism’ (that which functions in a epistemological-political register rather than, in Land, an ontological-political register) to what he dubbed a Prometheanism. This Prometheanism, following in the wake of Lenin and the Cosmists, puts forth the axiom that revolutionary politics requires rigorous post-capitalist planing via technological and more broad scientific exploration and not, we might say, the lightfooted doctrine of neo-liberal development. Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek develop this is their recently posted Accerlerationist Manifesto available here.

The piece is great.  McKenzie Wark has written an interesting response here. I have always been a accelerationst sympathesizer but was perhaps never admitted to the ranks for one reason or another (possibly because I am not a political thinker). One on level, I am not sure how to connect my own Schellingian sympathies to such a project as Schelling appears as a reactionary and non-radical character in the literature (though he has a kind of anarchic character in some ways, something I wrote an essay that will come out here.) That is, while there are certainly ties to Schelling via Peirce and Chatelet (in terms of physics, intuition, and systematicity) technology (and esp any kind of technologically infused politics) is a bit of a stretch.

One way, of trying to explore a ground here is Schelling’s complex relation to the myth of Prometheus (which I concluded this talk briefly with). While several notions of Prometheus swirl around Schelling (particularly in relation to Goethe’s  famous ode) the concept that the Promethean thought as a primordial thought is particularly interesting. For Schelling, the Gods were brought forth in order to move beyond them hence Schelling’s tautegorical concept of myth; the assertion that myth is not fundamentally allegorical but expresses objectivity in more or less clear language. Myth has a kind of redundant utility. Myth becomes myth (rather than say fiction) to the degree which it successfully obfuscates its temporality (myth contains in it the very beginning of time as Cassier discusses). This is related to Schelling’s view of the relation between science and philosophy – that the latter should judge and reconstruct the fictions that guide the practices of the former (and not the practices themselves).

Essentially, Schelling argues that the Promethean impulse is an ancient one, and one that necessitates not only the generation of myths and/or fictions, but ones that break from the stable self-justifying constructs meant only for pleading to the gods. This does not abnegate the sadness of the gods (of knowing the unhappy responsibility that comes from constrained notions of freedom) but threads the speculative and the pragmatic together: the construction of myths (as a practical excersise) engenders particular futures of creation thereby unleashing (or really re-releasing) speculation to bring it back to construction.

It would seem that it is the method of construction that speaks to a possible internal tension within the new accelerationism, a point of contention between Negarestani and Brassier (already suggested by the former in NYC last November). This centers on the normative as opposed to the explorative or, more broadly, the discrete and the continuous. While the continuous gets around the myth of the given in that it doesn’t rely on the acceptance of any kind of ready made concept, it seems that Negarestani’s thought, while acknowledging the local efficacy of the normative and the discrete, has yet to answer to the formation of the normative as a socially, or collectively, mediated formation. For instance, in his recent lectures at PAF this past April Negarestani discussed predator and prey relationships and discussed how sex becomes a solution to the catastrophe of two entities wanting to inhabit the same space.

After the talks I was talking to several others and the question was raised as how this ‘showdown’ model of predator and prey relates to collective hunting or, we might say to follow the Sellarsian line taken by Brandom and other Pittsburgh Hegelians, how the social becomes the naturalizing force of the normative (as second nature), it produces the tools by which we reason. It is unclear to me, how the socially produced tools of reason via language acquisition as the grundsatz of the normative clash with the continuous navigational form of reason that Negarestani is pursuing…as it seems to be a combat of a collective of speakers with a single engine of manipulation. Or, the honest townsfolk reacting to a stranger come to town.

In this sense, game theory meets evolutionary game theory, and meets the formation of myth (the birth of the legend). Whereas game theory relies more heavily on rational decision, evolutionary theory does not need reason but only effective strategy (forged in the teeth of evolution). Social alternatives complicate the single predator versus prey model in that forms of cooperation and alturism can reallocate resources between members of a collective and create complex strategies for avoiding predators etc. We could say that weirder forms engendered by the exploratory powers of reason lead to creation of, and adherence to, myths and fictions. This is obviously a quick jump, but part of the question here is what is the utility of a collective recognition of the myth-form, for example, once the myth of the given is recognized as the myth of the given.

To return to Schelling’s use of the myth of Prometheus as the anti-myth, it is the inadequacy of our constructions in the wake of apparently divine production but a production, the being of identity as being, that is unavoidable. Reason, for Schelling,  operations in a space of indifference which it can never stay in. Thought is always a costly diversion of one’s activity and a cutting out of an object. Thinking as the damage of a frontier navigator is not the enterprise of the violent few, but the mode by which thinking occurs. The construction of myth is not the invitation to imaginative free-for-all, but to judge myth’s by their non-self grounding character tied to a futurity, to celebrate those myths which point towards the ability of human thought to navigate according to its own terms. A properly accelerationist myth requires myths which dare to be proven insufficient, which outline not the insufficiency of reason but of its failed or restricted modes of operation. Prometheus is the oldest thought of ungrounding, where we cannot give up the tools of reason but only better sharpen them with myths, themselves such stolen tools, bent towards the seemingly impossible future. This is more a game of risk then one of utopian range. To quote (somewhat ironically?) the not so honorable Judge Holden from McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:

“And the answer, said the judge. If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day. He loves games? Let him play for stakes.”

The figure of the frontier (the figure and the frontier as figure) must be cut from the myths which binds capacity to forms of reason decorated with guns (to hat tip to Land ‘if reason is so secure, while all the guns). Reason cum security force is not so reasonable, but neither are crypto-forms of a kind of humanist conservatism which bind all forms of reason to endless violence. Accelerationism recognizes the stakes are not stolen from divinity, nor immutable ones which must always be defended (the vagueness of human souls), but the future demands larger gambles to break through the current game of reorganizing desires.

Next time: Prometheus in Space

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4 Responses to “Prometheus on the Frontier: Acceleration and Myth (pt 1)”

  1. 2 A reader

    Hi Ben, from Austria. I’m interested in the speculative aesthetics roundtable that happened in march, there is a way to know the issues there discussed? any transcription? I write to urbanomic’s mail, but I got no reply. Thank you very much.

    A reader


  1. 1 Aftermath | Accelerationism
  2. 2 Planetary/Human Evacuation | Naught Thought

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