Some Trace Effects of the Post-Anthropocene: On Accelerationist Geopolitical Aesthetics—Benjamin H. Bratton

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.

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. (...) 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.

There cannot be a post-Anthropocenic “politics” in any recognizable, normative sense—a “politics” predicated on the self-regard of the human subject mapping himself as a coherent agent within a stable historical unfolding. It’s just not possible to distinguish between what is an existential risk and what is an absolute invention, and what is both at once, and mobilize “positions” accordingly. So mobilization must go on without that distinction. To govern—that is, to account for the general economy of decay and creation with some nominal degree of authorship—something else is required.

To eat or to be eaten? But this reversibility of insides and outsides is perhaps exactly why it is necessary to retrain the work of the “political” away from a direct confrontation with or acceleration of Capitalism as the scope of the problem as such, and instead towards a direct engagement-in-advance with what succeeds and exceeds it.

Instead of “post-Capitalism” as the futural specter on call, I prefer the more encompassing “post-Anthropocene.” The latter names not only another eco-economic order but articulates in advance the displacement of the human agent from the subjective center of its operations. It measures its situation from picoseconds to geologic temporal scopes, and nanometric to comparative-planetary scales, and back again.

The post-Anthropocene indicates that the organizing work of a “xenogeopolitical aesthetics” (or whatever) can be done only in relation to a mature alienation from human history and anthropocentric time and scale. As it foreshadows and foregrounds the eclipse and extinction of Anthropocenic anthropology and corresponding models of governance, it establishes not only that humanism disappears with humans, and vice versa, but that the more elemental genetic machines with which we now co-embody flesh can and will, in time, re-appear and express themselves as unthinkable new animal machines, and with them, New Earths. The apophenia is never resolved for us after all.

This is not because aesthetics serves as some master vehicle of encounter with the distribution of sensibility, participation, and truth-telling about lifeworlds, but because (like the weirdly ahumanist traces below) they are forms of design and designation that qualify the affect of our post-Anthropocenic precipice by constituting it, rather than reflecting, suggesting, mirroring, or metaphorizing it for us through some public congress. It is less important that they dramatize something dangerous about the world we will face than that they physically incorporate and modify that world in advance without our supervision, oversight or guidance.

Machinic Images. Any discussion of an accelerationist geopolitical aesthetic must account for the contemporary technologies of the image itself. (...) Now and for the foreseeable future, images are a sub-genre of machines. Like the images on paper money, which appear as they do in order to best support specific counterfeit-prevention technologies designed into the patterns, some images (such as my explosives-sensing image noted above) have a discrete technical capacity that is inextricable from their materiality as images. Everyday data visualization turns the diagrammatic image into a scientific, managerial, and military instrument, while pervasive GUIs (graphical user interfaces) turn similar diagrams into active, goal-directed tools that mediate between a human folk psychology of action and algorithms available in the user’s environment. Beyond this, GUIs also train thought toward certain regimes of interpretation of that environment, and as GUIs become more closely glued to direct perception (as for augmented reality), their capacity to engender strong theological interpretations for their users will prove irresistible to various fundamentalisms. In this, the machinic image is punctured by little sinkholes between the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real.

(...) one of the first things to dissolve is perhaps the coherency of any normative polis or polity.

For example, the architecture of Hernan Diaz Alonso suggests (in ways he himself wouldn’t likely ever claim) how the eclipse of Anthropocenic systems doesn’t suppose that they are necessarily actually erased, but that they become bound within other hosts (perhaps many layers deep, parasites within parasites within parasites) and that, instead of withdrawing into a purified phenomenal geometry, any building-form must presume contagion between its own goopy, hungry, post-animalian composition and other organic and inorganic agents (both symbiots and parasites). Through this, “polities” emerge.

Instead of locating the post-Anthropocene after the Anthropocene along some dialectical timeline, it is better conceived as a composite parasite nested inside the host of the present time, evolving and appearing in irregular intervals at a scale that exceeds the Eros/Thanatos economy of the organism.