I’m reviving and ramping this old post of mine on Sorel, mostly inspired by Vincent Garton’s translation of La Chine, his last published article. I think that that article confirms many of the ideas I’ve had expressed here and it could be a useful addition to this ongoing series of posts. It’s a little cringy for me right now, I’m not going to lie, with the U/Acc references being a little too overdramatic; nonetheless, I stand behind the overall sentiment and I still believe it’s pretty cool.
“We would very much need a Mongol conquest to effect the rebirth of great art…”
One of the most interesting things about Unconditional Acceleration is its anachronistic and temporally/terminally paradoxical nature. The work of many unconditional accelerationists is almost a willful return to philosophies that are utterly untimely, out of synch and deeply buried under the marching boots of sound philosophy. Blanchot, Postone, Catholic theology, Jack Parsons, etc. Of course, we find references to a lot of the usual accelerationist suspects (Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, Guattari…) but the main focus, the real conceptual drive is the resurrection of an agonizing, living dead pack of outsiders. U/Acc seems to be a philological excavation of what we could call, paraphrasing Nick Land’s thus-far-marvellous bitcoin book, philosophical crypto-currents, cryptic, esoteric and encrypted tendencies which flow underneath and within philosophy’s mainstream parade (may it rain on it forever, by the way…)
In this post we will further this cryptic excavation, concentrating particularly on one of the exhumed philosophical bodies which U/Acc has dragged out of the dirt: Georges Sorel. The reason which forces me to come back to this specific corpse is simple: while the work done by Edmund Berger and Vincent Garton on this semi-forgotten thinker is definitely worthwhile, it leaves something essential behind. More specifically, it does not clarify why Sorel’s work is so vital for U/Acc and how it helps us re-think a term which has been, in my opinion, heavily distorted by L/Acc: hyperstition.
In fact, the work done by Berger and Garton seems to concentrate on one specific aspect of Sorel’s thought: the re-introduction of mythpoiesis within the political millieau as an effective motor of insurrectional mobilization. Garton and Berger concentrate all of their efforts on the idea that Sorel is a forgotten forerunner of the concept of hyperstition, the idea that our social and political organization is constructed by “mythic” entities which make themselves real through repetition, shared faiths, beliefs, physical and psychological habits and memetic contagion. The political sphere, in other words, is, according to Sorel read through the Gartonian and Bergerian lenses, the realm, not only of rational management of resources, fluxes, and populations, but also the lab in which we, as a transindividual swarm-mind pushed forward by the flux of Kapital, exercise the technoscience of the prophecies which makes themselves real. The polis is the realm of the power of the False and of fabulation, not reason and truth. Quoting Berger:
“Myths must be judged as a means of acting on the present,” wrote Sorel in Reflections on Violence. “[A]ll discussion of the method of applying them as future history is devoid of sense. It is the myth in its entirety which is alone important: its parts are only of interest in so far as they bring out the main idea.” The myth is thus divorced from the expected outcome that it angles itself toward; what emerges as the important factor is what happens in the present as a result of the myth. The future remains utterly indeterminate — and this is in
no small part thanks to the function of the myth itself. Expectations derived from the myth — say, the push towards towards socialism — entail a grand preparation, an immense mobilization even, that will produce effects which will themselves radiate into the indeterminacy of the future, if not ensure it outright. What is most important for Sorel is that mobilization under the directive of the myth breaks apart the static destruction of decadence and helps achieve a renewed sense of real progression.
This hyperstitional re-reading of the Sorelian oeuvre is certainly endearing and I can fully agree with the claim put forth by the U/Acc Sorelians: Sorel really does put myth back into politics, giving them the depth and the monstrous potential it deserves. For Sorel, “by means of them [the myths] it is possible to understand the activity, the feelings and the ideas of the masses preparing themselves to enter on a decisive struggle”. Sorel truly believes that myths act upon the social and that they work just like hyperstitions, creating and forming, through contagion, fabulation and repetition, the social and political life they are talking about, rather than simply representing it. Furthermore, as Garton notes, this eliminates the typical accusation moved against Sorelian politics: spontaneism. In fact, if it’s true that myths work through the channels opened by the catastrophic velocity of the acceleration of technocapitalism, as Garton claims, and if the contagions are not pests created by malevolent individuals in some dark lab, but the product of the feedbacks which reverberate within the collective swarm-mind which we inhabit through our consumptions, repetitions, and habits, then all political subjective spontaneity is merely an involuntary outcome of this erosive and elusive memetic creatures. We are acted upon, formed and constructed by myths, we are just a minuscule addition to a mythopoiesis which is essentially cryptic, inhuman and impersonal. As Garton puts it:
Crucially, hyperstition lies beyond immediate human agency: ultimately, the hyperstitional author can do no more than unleash ideas that proliferate beyond her control. The Sorelian myth, in this sense, may best be understood precisely as a form of hyperstition—both in its conceptual content, and in its practical consequences, given the historical extent of Sorel’s reach. For Sorel, the apocalyptic expectation of the general strike was to convert itself into a real, and different, catastrophe despite the unknowingness of its adherents. It is riding the surging superhuman currents of technical development that myth can instantiate a great politics beyond the limited sphere of human interests. With the voiding of unilinear human agency and the end of stadial theories of development, meanwhile, it is hyperstition, within contemporary accelerationism, that restores the role of human practice, or of ‘morals’ as Sorel understood them. But it is no longer the human subject, with its knowing objectives and phenomenal sense of the world, that takes centre stage: things never proceed quite as they seem.
So, what is the fuss about? I claim that, while the U/Acc Sorelians are completely correct in their interpretation of Sorelian political philosophy, Sorel’s thought is even more disquietingly hyperstitional; so much so that a thorough reading of the Sorelian myth could potentially re-activate a more radical definition of the term hyperstition vis-à-vis the definition usually employed by L/Acc. Sorel could bring us all the way back to the CCRU’s use of the term, to its violent and disturbing roots. In order to demonstrate this proposition, we have to briefly clarify one pivotal distinction which guides Sorel’s theorization throughout his Reflections On Violence: the Utopia/Myth distinction.
For Sorel, utopias and myths are two completely different things. Utopias are intellectualistic creatures. They are a sort of managerial obsession that tries to conceptualize a good world-to-come and, eventually, summon it into reality. They are a conceptual map that traces the outline of the future and guides us through it. Utopias, in other words, are functions of hyperstitional control of the forces (political, social and economic) which will bring about the future state of the world and they are an act of speculative social and political engineering, which tries to construct a better version of the already-existing and direct the present towards this or that future.
A Utopia is, on the contrary, an intellectual product; it is the work of theorists who, after observing and discussing the known facts, seek to establish a model to which they can compare existing society in order to estimate the amount of good and evil it contains. It is a combination of imaginary institutions having sufficient analogies to real institutions for the jurist to be able to reason about them; it is a construction which can be taken to pieces, and certain parts of it have been shaped in such a way that they can (with a few alterations by way of adjustment) be fitted into approaching legislation.
This, as anyone who is a little versed in the world of L/Acc will have surely noticed, looks extremely familiar. In fact, this description perfectly matches the definition of the term hyperstition utilized by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in Inventing The Future. Quoting Srnicek and Williams:
Contra the earlier thinkers of modernity, there is no necessity to progress, nor a singular pathway from which to adjudicate the extent of development. Instead, progress must be understood as hyperstitional: as a kind of fiction, but one that aims to transform itself into a truth. Hyperstitions operate by catalysing dispersed sentiment into a historical force that brings the future into existence. They have the temporal form of ‘will have been’. Such hyperstitions of progress form orienting narratives with which to navigate forward, rather than being an established or necessary property of the world. Progress is a matter of political struggle, following no pre-plotted trajectory or natural tendency, and with no guarantee of success.
Myths are not utopias, though; they are agents of chaos.
In fact, against these forms of hyperstitional engineering, Sorel posits the concept of myth as a hyperstitional vector which does not construct the future and does not organize the already-existing forces of this world but moves towards an unconditional mobilization of the crypto-currents crawling in the basements of the present. Myths, starkly opposing utopias, are intensifications of the chaotic insurgencies which try to abolish the “normal”, the “sane” and “this world”. Sorelian myths are not ways to construct a better future but means to abolish this world through the intensification of the base, the alien, the anarchic, the violent and the inhuman forces which already pushing, from the outside, against walls of the already-existing. Taking us all the way back to the CCRU, myths, in the Sorelian sense, are positive feedback loops, processes which tend towards an ever-greater disequilibrium, not the representation of any future whatsoever. Myths are the power of the False, utilized, not to actualize anything at all, but to abolish, escape, exit, destroy. In other words, myths are not the hyperstitional vectors of the praxis of world-building, but the blood which runs through the veins of all of those lines of negation, abolition, absolute flight and corrosive freedom which U/Acc calls anti-praxis.
The myths are not descriptions of things, but expressions of a determination to act. […] Whilst contemporary myths lead men to prepare themselves for a combat which will destroy the existing state of things, the effect of Utopias has always been to direct men’s minds towards reforms which can be brought about by patching up the existing system; it is not surprising, then, that so many makers of Utopias were able to develop into able statesmen when they had acquired a greater experience of political life. A myth cannot be refuted, since it is, at bottom, identical with the convictions of a group, being the expression of these convictions in the language of movement; and it is, in consequence, unanalysable into parts which could be placed on the plane of historical descriptions. A Utopia, on the contrary, can be discussed like any other social constitution; the spontaneous movements it presupposes can be compared with the movements actually observed in the course of history, and we can in this way evaluate its verisimilitude; it is possible to refute Utopias by showing that the economic system on which they have been made to rest is incompatible with the necessary conditions of modem production.
Or again, showing how strongly the powers of the False can disrupt this world without becoming an agent of paranoid control:
Thanks to these men, we know that the general strike is indeed what I have said: the myth in which Socialism is wholly comprised, i.e. a body of images capable of evoking instinctively all the sentiments which correspond to the different manifestations of the war undertaken by Socialism against modern society. Strikes have engendered in the proletariat the noblest, deepest, and most moving sentiments that they possess; the general strike groups them all in a co-ordinated picture, and, by bringing them together, gives to each one of them its maximum of intensity; appealing to their painful memories of particular conflicts, it colours with an intense life all the details of the composition presented to consciousness. We thus obtain that intuition of Socialism which language cannot give us with perfect clearness—and we obtain it as a whole, perceived instantaneously
Clearly, this brings me straight to the heart of my claim: this distinction and this willful utilization of an unconditional and “abolitionist” form of proto-hyperstion are the reasons which make Sorel so important for the Unconditional Accelerationists and they should not be overlooked. Sorelian myths, being potentially free from any utopianism and insisting on being a form of groundless abolition of the present and full mobilization of the destructive forces coming from remote and unavowable places of our political life, are a means to the construction of the Lovecraftian and paradoxical community with the Outside described by Xenogothic in his Vast Abrupt article. Sorel invites us to reach out and touch the Outside which is folded into the Inside, to take part in the weird, libidinal insurrection we are trying so hard to contain within ourselves and our world.