2015, Fri, Jan 16

Acceleration & the New

with David Cunningham, Frank Engster, Nina Power; Moderation: Peter Osborne

The concept of acceleration has a central place in contemporary capitalist societies. For some this amounts to a “shrinkage to the present” and to a sense of capitalism’s inescapability within a fully 24/7 culture. For others it is to be embraced as the basis for an ultimate transcendence of capitalism itself. What is the philosophical meaning of “acceleration”? How does it relate to alternate conceptions of “modernity” and of “the new”?

David Cunningham: ‘Acceleration, Transition and the Idea of Socialism’
In his famous study of the ‘semantics of historical time’, Reinhart Koselleck suggested that ‘two specific temporal determinants characterize the new experience of transition: the expected otherness of the future and, associated with it, the alteration in the rhythm of temporal experience: acceleration, by means of which one’s own time is distinguished from what went before’. Yet recent accounts of the accelerated temporalities of contemporary capitalism have tended to stress, in fact, not so much the alterity of the future as what Paul Virilio calls a ‘futurism of the instant that has no future’. This paper explores the degree to which the ongoing crisis of socialism as a political project and idea (not least as this is manifested in dominant articulations of the Idea of Communism) can be understood, in part, through this shift, of which one consequence is a effacement of those difficult questions surrounding the temporalities of ‘transition’ itself, which come to be replaced instead by various fictions of apocalypse and exodus.

Frank Engster: ‘The Conditions of Acceleration: Money as a Technique of Measurement’
The argument of this paper is that in modern society acceleration began when money started to measure the valorisation of labour. By measuring, money constitutes an ‘economy of time’. It is as if money takes time to measure a process that because of that measurement itself enters into relations of time and obtains its productive power by way of these relations, namely through the relations between living and dead labour and necessary and surplus labour-time. It is the measurement of these relations, and in particular the reduction of necessary labour-time, that appears as acceleration. In short: there is no acceleration without a measure – acceleration is temporalization by measuring productivity by time. And money, by quantifying productivity and circulating these quanta in its circles, became the technical means of this temporalization.

Nina Power: ‘Technology and Scale: Whose Future?’
This paper will critique the conceptions of temporality inherent in the accelerationist project, arguing that there is a fundamental sleight of hand when it comes to accelerationist theorising of the future in the present, in the sense that an often overheated rhetoric comes to stand in for a properly rigorous critical exploration of scale: sweeping statements about the power of technocapital to alter human futures omits to understand that our conception of time itself is a product of multiple modes of theorising, many of which are negative. Accelerationism fails to criticize the time of capital, rendering its theorising indistinguishable from the chrono-ideology of capital itself.