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To look at the present as the past of the future

ACCELERATION: We have interviewed the thinker Armen Avanessian about "accelerationism" and the possibility of a new political thinking.

- Your book Metaphysics for our time (Metaphysics at the moment, 2019 [2021]) is now published in Norwegian together with the anthology Acceleration (#Acceleration, 2013). Where did your philosophical involvement in this subject begin?

- In the period when I made the anthology, a spectrum of philosophy had emerged that had a speculative temporality – which saw the world from the point of view of the future. Speculative philosophy today has many ramifications that sometimes conflict with each other, but they all share a realistic or materialistic belief in science.

In more abstract terms, the danger is always that the difference between assumptions about the future and the future itself disappears, so that the future is also lost for the individual.

I am particularly interested in what it can mean to think about our current political situation in an optimistic way with a look to the future. How can we see the present from the outside to see what are the most promising tendencies in our modern capitalist world? The assumption is that there are unused scientific and technological advances, opportunities that can be used to transform our society in a more enlightened way. Despite the fact that capitalism seems to move too fast, it slows us down and holds us back.

Accelerationism allows us to break the "equation" that is stuck in our head, namely that modernity = enlightenment = progress = growth = capitalism = neoliberalism. When we break up this complex of ideas, we see that progress is still achievable: it is possible to improve our society based on rational criteria that are in the best interests of the majority. We must look for development features that can and should be accelerated. Such an effort is found in what is called "left-accelerationism".

Academy and thinking

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- Your own contribution to the acceleration anthology is about academia. Is academic thinking simply not fast enough to be at the height of its own time?

- I asked myself if there is such a thing as an accelerationist way of dealing with academia? I wanted not only to write about accelerationism, but to take up politics in my own work environment. In my book Overwrite (2017) I try to show that certain capitalist categories, such as innovation, creativity, competition and branding, have always played a role in academic institutions – even in the earliest ideas that shaped the modern research university. I wanted to resist the naive victim role often played by academics suffering from economics, the whole neoliberal administration of the university. Although these problems are real and difficult, we must also realize that the market and the development of theory are historically more deeply intertwined, and that we can approach the constellation more offensively.

- You often emphasize the thinking that happens outside the universities. In the art world, for example?

- However, it is not the case that philosophical thinking only thrives outside academia; I would estimate that about fifty percent of all the famous philosophers in our canon were academics. Still, after editing the acceleration anthology, we continued the book series with books on new movements such as xenofeminism and ethnofuturism, a polemic on the fringes of academic philosophy. The co-editors of the mentioned books became younger and younger – and the authors became less and less academic.

Governments plagued by lack of money are also eager to embrace any technology that can provide efficiency gains.

Several of the contributors to the ethnofuturism anthology, for example, are visual artists and DJs. It tells you something about how philosophy and thinking around concepts are used untraditionally and made productive in a broader discussion and political context. For me, the power and direction of a project is often more interesting than meticulous philological readings or the historization of currents of thought.

- Can we say that accelerationism is about turning the wild productive force of capitalism against itself?

- One of the provocations of the accelerators is addressed to capitalist prophets of liberalization who talk about the deregulated flow of goods and services. It is clear that all this is hypocritical, since we continue to use boundaries to the benefit of the few and to the detriment of most of us. So the accelerators say: Let's take your word for it, let's really open the borders, even to humans!

To Adi Jaya. Tecnology Adoration. See Libex.Eu
To Adi Jaya. Tecnology Adoration. See Libex.Eu

The refugee and the future

- This sounds like an acceleration of the migration crisis itself. You have previously referred to the refugee as a figure who can and must be given a positive, progressive meaning?

- For me, migration is not only theoretical, given my family background, but also something personal. But beyond that, migration is of course a major political issue, and it will be even greater in the future due to increased global inequality, but also global warming and the resulting climate wars.

It is important to point out that "migration crisis" is a misleading etiquette, since a crisis in medicine marks a crucial moment, in which we either survive or perish. If we look at migration from the point of view of the future, it becomes clear that this is not a temporary crisis. We want to see more and more people fleeing and hiking, so we must stop treating it as a temporary problem that can be solved with walls and closing borders.

- So what can the figure of the refugee tell us – as a messenger of the future?

- The migrants remind us of what politics is really about. I studied under Jacques Rancière in Paris, and for him politics is not about this or that group that demands a two percent wage increase and such. It is rather about creating new political subjects, such as those who knock on the door and force themselves into the democratic and political arena (police). This happened earlier with the bourgeoisie against the aristocrats, then with the workers and women – who for centuries did not have a voice. Then came ethnic minorities and so on. Now it is the refugees who knock on our door and demand the right to enter. They also have a kind of right to be welcomed, since it was climate change that indirectly created the conflict in Syria. Our way of consuming caused their crops to fail, so they were forced to flee.

Capitalism itself, in spite of its apparent speed, slows us down and holds us back.

This could radically transform our political system, because migrants must not only be included in our political system, but also in our political thinking and imagination. What is at stake politically in our present, seen from the future, are future generations. In our political actions, we must soon begin to include people who have not even been born. They too must have a voice. So if you look at our own time from the future, it is clear that migration and global warming are becoming more and more relevant, but current policies fail to really address this.

- So how can we establish ourselves in the future to see the present more clearly?

- In Germany we are a contemporary Zeitgenosse – literally translated a «comrade of our own time». We need to develop a camaraderie with the future. Today we see too many comrades of the past longing to return.

Politicians also look back and into an imaginary past, which they want to model the present over: an imagined past that was probably more authentic in terms of culture, or races, religions or countries. But as Quentin Meillassoux has said, "The past is unpredictable." The goal must be to look at the present as the past of the future, instead of looking back for an imagined and lost idyll.

- But this is more complex, isn't it?

- I Metaphysics for our time is one of the main ideas that not only do we live in new times, but that time itself has changed. It can no longer be followed linearly and chronologically from the past to the future. We are part of a complex and complex time full of actors other than the human ones. Not only do we have to deal with animals and plants, but also with machines and algorithms that all operate in different temporalities. We can not force all other parties to follow our agenda. Among other things, I try to link a speculative thinking to our current economy, which is characterized by speculative and automated finance. Here, time itself is made the subject of calculation and analysis that can help us to better understand ourselves and develop as a species: We should learn from the algorithms that learn from us.

Put the present under pressure

- But when the future intervenes directly in the present and forces us to react to everything that is along the way, do we not lose the ability to act on our own initiative?

- There are many ways of thinking about the relationship between present and future, such as prediction, prevention, but today also increasingly what we call "preemption" – as in preventive wars of aggression. IN Future Metaphysics (2019, discussed by MODERN TIMES here) I discuss many problematic examples of preventive policing or digital personalization. In more abstract terms, the danger is always that the difference between assumptions about the future and the future itself disappears, so that the future is also lost for the individual.

The distance between the future present (what we imagine will happen) and the present future (what actually turns out to happen) must neither be suppressed nor disappear. Today, algorithms can know our future better than we do, since they anticipate our actions. The uneven distribution of knowledge about the future becomes a power problem: The owners of Facebook and Google thus gain a dangerous advantage.

In a more long-term room for maneuver, the political left has long accused itself of having lost its political imagination. To many, it seems as if the open future horizon has closed so we can not imagine a radically different and better society. Is there a new utopian impulse in your projects?

- I am not a futurologist and do not write about how society or philosophical institutes in the future should or can be. I try to intervene in philosophical, academic and artistic practices in the present to mobilize and put the present under pressure from the future.

In the book, I also believe that other metaphysical concepts such as truth and reality, form and matter or life and death must be reconsidered with regard to our modern world. For once, instead of deconstructing the thought systems of the past and being melancholy about not getting rid of metaphysics, let's use these concepts again – try them out, so to speak. I think it turns out that all these concepts mean something radically different today, but that perhaps that is precisely why they are still very useful.


Bring with you book launch on Facebook Live Tuesday 16.3  (free arr.)

Read excerpts of the book Acceleration here.

Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.
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