Nick Land’s Philosophy of Capital is Anti-Capitalist


Jotting down some notes that popped into my head just as I was about to fall asleep, so take the following as a rough draft of, well, probably nothing. I’m not sure why these sorts of things crawl about in the late night hours, and not anything related to more pressing projects. Perhaps poor time preference? Idk. Here following a cheeky quasi-shit post:

In his recent interview with Justin Murphy (a transcript of which can be read at the Vast Abrupt), Land offers his thoughts on that concept that will be intimately familiar with those who have kept up on the various /Acc wars: the autonomization and escape of capital. Here’s solid quote:

…in using this word of emancipation, sure, I will totally nod along to it if what is meant by that is capital autonomization. I don’t think that’s something that it isn’t already there in the 1990s, but I’m no longer interested in playing weird academic games about this and pretending this is the same thing as what the left really means when they’re talking about emancipation. I don’t think it is. I think what the left means by emancipation is freedom from capital autonomization.

What would it mean for capital to be autonomized? On the one hand, we might just be talking about the autonomization of capital in a flat sense, a coupling-together of Marx’s depiction of capable as “a dynamic structure of abstract domination that, although constituted by humans, is independent of their will” with extreme deregulation. I don’t think this is what Land means, however. In the quote above, he suggests that this concept is already in play in his work CCRU, and it would be exceedingly difficult to reduce the schizophrenia of that period to simply an enthusiasm for transnationalized, post-Fordist capitalism (critics are oft to do this, but this needs to be considered as the ground, not the totality). In the late-CCRU era of the Hyperstition blog references abound to technomic acceleration as Shoggothic insurgency, a concept that appeared earlier in a piece concerning the possibility of a nanotech gray-goo apocalypse and later in the (admittedly more sober) essay in the #Accelerate Reader, where he describes a “dominion of capital”, “robot rebellion” and the conversion of “all natural purposes into a monstrous reign of the tool”. In a Xenosystems post, meanwhile, Land muses that “At a certain point, the machines are in this for themselves”.

Jumping off from this, let’s assume capital autonomization as a given, and interpret it – which I believe is correct, but am open to counter-arguments – as indicating, at some point, the emergence of distinctly post-human life. My contention is that by accepting that capital autonomizes in this way, one is also accepting that capital is overcoming – and thus annihilating itself – through the very same process. This isn’t the destructive of the living object or system that we deem to be post-human life, but the destruction of both the categorization and the system that it, up to this point, was embedded within.

The reason for this is that what Land identifies as the process of capitalist autonomization is the same vector that Marx traces out the dynamic means-ends reversal that characterizes the development of the capitalist system. To sum it up as simply as possible, what begin as means – capital, particularly in its money-form – are transformed into ends in themselves. The situation of money progresses from being a means to buy and sell commodities to both the accumulation and circulation of itself being an end (the movement from C – M – C to M – C – M’). Alongside this simple commodity production is transformed into advanced production and the laborer goes from being one who uses the tool (as in pre-capitalist craft production and simple commodity production) to being one who is subjected to the tool (as described in that machine fragment in the Grundrisse everyone is going on about).

Through these sorts of processes, we perceive the advancement of capital as unfolding through the subjugation of the human. If capital, however, doesn’t transcend its status as an end, then it hasn’t actually escaped. As alluded to above, for Marx capital is independent of the individual will of the human agent, and while the activities of the human agent are the processes through which capital expands, it is beyond it in the sense that it is what compels these activities – in other words, an abstract mode of social domination. If we’re taking capital’s escaping as simply the intensification of the subjugation of the human, then no true change has occurred. Capital remains locked in place, and while it may have achieved the status of the master, the ultimate end, the great teleological catastrophe, it stays fundamentally attached to class society. This would be far from the suggestion that the human element is a drag, something to be overcome.

If capital truly escapes, then, it would be through a break with its status as an end, and this would entail nothing less that the concrete separation from the system that maintains it as such. This would be an emancipation from the law of value, and it would be at this very point that capital would not be capital.

One might argue that a posthuman, post-capital something might be forced to retain capitalist for survival. Three lazy responses:

  1. The existence of such a hypothetical entity will have emerged specifically from centuries of struggle for optimization against these very conditions, and thus the natural inclination of these systems would be to work against this sort of thing (this is retaining the idea of contradictions internal to the capitalist mode of production, per Marx).
  2. If we take seriously the suggestion that predictive is breaking down the deeper we get into increasingly non-linear developmental processes (that is, taking seriously questions posed by U/Acc and the accelerationist trolley problem, and more generalized knowledge problems in the context of complex, interconnected societies situated in a fast-paced global world assaulted by increasingly weird weather), we actually lose the ability to make overly strong claims of these nature.
  3. The Bataille response – excess is intrinsic and fundamental, bby. Go mine an asteroid and eat a star and make peace with eventual heat death.

11 thoughts on “Nick Land’s Philosophy of Capital is Anti-Capitalist

  1. “Nothing brought to bear against capitalism can compare to the intrinsic antagonism it directs towards its own actuality, as it speeds out of itself, hurtling to the end already operative ‘within’ it.”

    granted, but how in hell ejecting itself from the current economic system (i.e. bracketing consumption altogether) removes the economic calculation problem? if there’s anything that’s still “capitalist” in autonomized capital is it’s necessity for decentralized coordination, which demands prices.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think that a price regime is the benchmark for evaluating whether something is capitalist or not (prices and market activities existed in pre-capitalist modes of production), but I think the bigger issue at stake in the conceptualization is that we’re modeling the posthuman life – if that’s what autonomized capital is – by our model of what the human is. In Deleuzian parlance we’re reducing difference it to the repetition of the same instead of elevating it to the level of difference-in-itself – and by doing so we are putting it back in the box, so to speak, and thus falling shortly of actually considering the future. In this sense whatever we pose must be inherently speculative, and for this reason I’m recalcitrant to suggest how a posthuman life might organize itself (how could we possibly think that in a way to make concrete claims!); what is interesting to me here is that reading the process Land seems to suggest through the Marxian theoretical apparatus follows lock-step in the theory of capitalism’s overcoming.

      (I’m gonna formally inaugurate the hip new field of pop-theory, Acid Marxism & Speculative Post-Capitalism, taking cue from Fisher’s Acid Communism reflections… emphasis on *post* because it evades the outdated and regressive binarization of pro/anti-capitalist, despite the title I plugged into this post)

      The horrifying excess of the universe does offer some interesting considerations of the universe, though – hence the lil reference to Bataille at the end, who suggested the problem isn’t scarcity but excess itself… which is why D&G talk about how lack must be generated and not seen as the beginning condition.

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      1. dmf

        sure sorry, just a way of noting a limit of our grasps as opposed to inventing/inviting some new/alien class of objects/actors or an ontological Something Spooky (ghosts in machines, Geist Machines, withdrawing Beings, etc).
        Roden offers instead a kind of dark phenomenology (see
        There is some unfortunate crossover between waxing theo-logical and being conspiracy-minded where instead of taking at face value the kluged together clusterfucks that make up our daily lives people are possessed by drives/images of some thing/One behind the scenes that pulls everything together even if only to push it all apart.

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    1. I think this scheme is quite close! The axiomatic system, as that which modulates flows once they have entered into the conjunction of decoding and territorialization, would be the sort of meta-structural mechanisms that allows their modulation, which is why we could talk about an abstraction like “capitalism” in concrete terms. Jon Roffe has a critique of their usage of axiomatics that I’ve been meaning to read for like over a year at this point – I should remedy this soon. Here it is if you’d like to take a look at it:

      Wrt to flow :: capital, capital certainly flows but I think that a double-function needs to be entered there. On one hand it does facilitate flows (capital-desire relation) and serve, by extension, as flows (the flows of money-capital), it is also instills lack (“rendering the debt infinite”) and subordinates flows (traps them within the axiomatic so serve as the means of capital’s self-reproduction).

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  2. Thanks for Roff. Funny, Jernej (@CCTFCardiff) was telling me about Roff’s Abstract Market Theory the same day you’ve sent me this link.

    Yes, but doesn’t Foucault say “forget desire” and D&G say “forget lack”? I think Arran (or was it you?) somewhere wrote about Baudrillard’s/Baudrillardian impotence, but I cannot find it, he erased all of his old blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, what a coincidence! I liked AMT a lot and hopefully he explores econ more in the future. I think he’s currently doing work on Ruyer.

      Was it Foucault who said forget desire? D&G certainly tried to advance an understanding of desire that wasn’t founded intrinsically in lack, a maneuver necessary for their extension of production and consumption into non-human matter(s) — the footnote in the first chapter on Bataille’s ‘nonproductive expenditures’ in nature emphasizes an important continuity between his vision of a world exploding with excess and their attack on lack. Baudrillard’s critique of these theories in Forget Foucault certainly chastised the little Nietzschean nexus around D&G, Foucault & Lyotard (Klossowski could be added to this) by arguing that the desiring-flows was the logic of power, particularly in the emergent phase (post-Fordism/post-industrial/neoliberal capitalism).

      It is a powerful critique, but on the one hand it misses the forest for the trees since this misses how D&G’s analysis is coming in the waters of that same problematic, with desiring-production, social machines and capitalism all operating in conjunction and with overlapping psychedelic logic (some theoretical distillation/hybridity of Ruyer-esque embryology/neuroplastic trauma cycles). But what Baudrillard points to, and D&G were admittedly less clued in on this, was the way that desire was overtly instrumentalized, and the critique can be brought to bear on the whole ‘micropolitics of desire’ thing, which while not identical to D&G’s politics certainly arose in part from them.

      Another interesting point to consider would be how much Baudrillard’s desire, which he critiques, maps to D&G’s desire itself. He wants to retain the notion of lack as intrinsic to desire but draws attention to how capitalism is producing over-abundance (to the point in which people desire scarcity). This seems like a fun-house mirror reflection of D&G in many ways, so it is a curious conundrum.

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      1. “Was it Foucault who said forget desire?”
        Well, kind of or at least according to Macey’s biography (the short one):
        “Foucault begins by demolishing the so-called repressive hypothesis, according to which the nineteenth century, and Victorian Britain in particular, had been characterized by a silence about
        sexuality. This was not just a historical issue; the many and varied sexual liberation groups of the day were still speaking of the need to combat ‘sexual repression’ in the name of desire. From now
        onwards, Foucault speaks increasingly of ‘pleasures’ and not of desire. In doing so, he distances himself from the so-called philosophy of desire that was associated primarily with Deleuze and
        Guattari. In their Anti-Oedipe of 1972, the philosopher and the psychoanalyst outline a philosophy that departs radically from the traditional view that desire is a reaction to and a longing for
        an object that is absent, and insist that desire is a mobile force that creates it objects. /…/ Anti-Oedipe, with its vision of an eternally circulating and creative desire, was immensely influential, and had a particular impact on Hocquenhem’s version of gay liberation. In distancing himself from the philosophy of desire, Foucault was also distancing himself from one of the dominant strands of gay politics.”

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