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Elvia Wilk is a writer and editor living in Berlin, covering art, architecture, urbanism, and emerging technologies. She contributes to publications like Frieze, Artforum, e-flux, die Zeit, the Architectural Review, and Metropolis. Currently she's a contributing editor at Rhizome and publications editor for transmediale festival for arts and digital culture.
No article has been more fiercely debated on my Facebook feed lately than this essay on the history of Accelerationism. That probably says as much about my friends and acquaintances as it does about the topic’s mainstream importance, but the fact that the philosophical subject has shown up as a long-read in the Guardian definitely means it’s no longer just a fringe discussion.
Whether you agree with the precise way the author summarizes the trajectory of the term (I do, for the most part), it’s a great primer for the uninitiated.
The writer, Andy Beckett, begins in 1967 with the first recognized use of the term “Accelerationism” in a little-known science fiction book—then traces its evolution both forward and backward in history. Backward, to the Futurists and (more controversially) Karl Marx, and forward, through the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit and the work of Nick Land in the 1990s, ending up in the present with writers like Nick Srnicek today. He summarizes what all those groups have in common thus:
Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified—either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative.
Celebrating speed and technology has its risks, Beckett points out, as is now evident (if it wasn’t before) in the case of Land, now a prominent neoreactionary thinker. Younger Accelerationists have been looking for new paths forward—#notallaccelerationists—but it’s hard to wash off the stigma of Landian techno-futurism. Beckett gets a great quote from Land himself on this point: “The notion that self-propelling technology is separable from capitalism is a deep theoretical error.”
Beckett’s main accomplishment in this survey is demonstrating how one term can mean very different things—and be weaponized in very different ways—by different people.