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Invaders from the Future: The CCRU's Writings and Their Legacy

Lecturer: Vincent Le

Originally Taught: Winter School 2019

This course provides an introduction to the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit’s writings, as well as traces their important influence on contemporary philosophy, aesthetics and political theory. Initially established in 1995 at Warwick University to support philosopher and cyberfeminist Sadie Plant’s work before being banished from academia and falling under Nick Land’s tutelage in 1997, the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) has become the subject of much myth and legend for its rather unorthodox compositions, reading groups, conferences and art shows, all of which sought to theorize and produce immanently with rather than about and from on high the cybercultures they studied. It was particularly in their later years outside the university that the CCRU took an ever more literary and even occult turn. Free from the confines of academic acceptability, no subject was considered too outrageous to seriously devote themselves, be it Aleister Crowley’s numerology, H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos, or conspiracy theories about secret societies and alien abductions. Many of the group’s writings not only drew upon fictions, but sought to merge with them, becoming what they termed (following Baudrillard) “theory-fictions” or “hyperstitions”: imaginary worlds that are not yet real, but will become so in the future. Through this unholy, alchemic cocktail of fiction, science and the occult, the CCRU sought to strip language of anthropocentric meanings and dogmas in such a way as to stage an encounter with the inhuman “Outside” beyond the finite bounds of our reason.

The demands of their often narcotic-fueled collective thinking on minimal sleep would ultimately lead to the CCRU’s virtual disbandment in 2003, with only sporadic communication on their Hyperstition blog before going radio silent in 2007. Nonetheless, their influence continues to live on today like a spectre haunting the academy as many former members and associates have gone on to achieve prominence in their own right, including philosophers Anna Greenspan, Luciana Parisi, Reza Negarestani, Kodwo Eshun, Iain Hamilton Grant, Robin Mackay and Mark Fisher, as well as artists Jake and Dino Chapman, Ranu Kuherjee, Maggie Roberts and Steve Goodman (better known under his pseudonym Kode9). To cover both the CCRU’s collective writings and some of the key members’ subsequent trajectories, this course will be structured into three modules: the first module looks at the CCRU’s collective theory-fictions and occult rituals; the second covers Land’s post-CCRU writings as the group’s key intellectual guru; and the third explores how other former CCRU members went on to pioneer three cultural movements of our time: speculative realism; accelerationism (including xenofeminism); and the antihumanist aesthetic.

Course Schedule

Lecture 1. Fictions of the Future, Numerologies of the Past: The CCRU’s Theory-Fictions and Occult Practices

The CCRU’s efforts to critique the limits of our thought through biotechnology, advanced AI and other modern and near-future technologies’ capacities to modify and even surpass humanity initially incited them to model their writings on science fiction stories about the end of the world. If their writings became extremely literary, it was not because they were no longer interested in serious philosophy, but because they held it is only through fictions that we can truly think about what reality is like without us. This first lecture will be broken into two parts. The first part will focus on the CCRU’s early theory-fictions in which they time-travel to a future where advanced biotechnology and strong AI are already a reality. We will also look at the work of the fictitious Professor D.C. Barker through whom the CCRU develop a theory of the emergence of life and thought as “geotraumatic” repressions and stratifications of the earth’s chaotic molten core. The second part will then examine how the CCRU’s writings became increasingly abstract and occult as they turned to qabbalistic and mathematical numbering practices like Crowley’s numerology and Cantor’s set theory in an effort to open up our language systems to modernity’s increasingly confounding technological entanglement.

Key readings:

  • Nick Land, “Meltdown,” in Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007, eds. Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2012), 441-460.
  • CCRU, “Barker Speaks: The CCRU Interview with Professor D.C. Barker,” in CCRU: Writings 1997-2003, ed. Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2017), 155-162.
  • Nick Land, “Qabbalah 101,” in Fanged Noumena, 591-606.

Recommended readings:

Lecture 2. Malfunctioning Academia: Hyperstition and The Urban Sublime

The key overarching concept that cohered the CCRU’s diverse and peculiar output is what they called hyperstition, “fictions that make themselves real.” The first half of this session will work through the different aspects and significations of hyperstition to show how it essentially designates the idea that fictions like qabbalistic numerologies, religious doomsday myths, and science fiction stories should be seen as realisms insofar as they teleologically herald the future reality of humankind’s annihilation at the hands of an AI-God. The session’s second half will then consider how Land and Anna Greenspan’s initial post-CCRU writings envision modern megacities and particularly Shanghai as centres of an ever-accelerating intelligence explosion in a way which directly materializes the future singularity’s dissolution of dogmatic metaphysics’ last anthropomorphic vestiges.

Key readings:

  • CCRU, “Communiqué One: Message to Simon Reynolds,” in CCRU: Writings, 7.
  • CCRU, “Communiqué Two: Message to Maxence Grunier,” in CCRU: Writings, 9-12.
  • CCRU, “Lemurian Time War,” in CCRU: Writings, 33-52.
  • CCRU, “Axsys-Crash,” in CCRU: Writings, 121-122.
  • Anna Greenspan and Nick Land, “Neo-Modern Shanghai and the Art of Abstraction,” in Flash Art, 206, 37-46.

Recommended readings:

Lecture 3. Philosophys Dark Heirs: Abstract Horror and Patchwork Theory

This session’s first half explores Land’s political philosophy of a “patchwork” of privately-owned states, which purportedly set capitalism free to pursue technological advancement without needing to cater to humanity’s needs. This will put us in a good position to consider later critiques of Land by left-wing thinkers like Ray Brassier, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams.

While Land’s compositional prose style has always bordered on the literary and experimental particularly during the CCRU years, it is only more recently that he has written two novellas of what he terms “abstract horror fiction.” This lecture’s second half will examine how Land turns to writing horror fiction because he sees the genre as a better compositional form than traditional philosophy to continue the CCRU’s critique of dogmatic metaphysics insofar as it is able to stage a confrontation with that which lies beyond our parochial comprehension.

Key readings:

  • Nick Land, “The Dark Enlightenment” Parts 1-4f, Urban Futures 1.0, 2012, https://oldnicksite.wordpress.com/?s=dark+enlightenment.
  • Nick Land, “Manifesto for an Abstract Literature,” in Chasm (Shanghai: Time Spiral Press, 2015, eBook).
  • Nick Land, “Appendix 2: On the Exterminator,” in Phyl-Undhu (Shanghai: Time Spiral Press, 2014, eBook).

Recommended readings:

Lecture 4. Time Travel to Judgment Day: Bitcoin, The Chapman Twins, Orphan Drift, Negarestani, Kode9

Land’s most recent theoretical writings focus on developing a theory of time as a positive feedback loop of explosive change accelerating towards a future singularity, which is paradoxically determining the present in advance of its own becoming. In particular, he has looked to bitcoin as a way to incarnate time itself as the blockchain technology successively locks in proofs as to what is real which cannot be reversed, thereby separating the transcendental from the empirical, truth from its false appearances. This lecture’s first half concludes our analysis of Land’s oeuvre by considering his theory of bitcoin’s absolute succession towards an AI-God to come as the culmination of his entire philosophical trajectory.

Having worked through Land’s post-CCRU philosophy, we shall then consider the work of some of the CCRU’s key members and associates, beginning with those artists who have elaborated on the group’s ideas through their respective art forms: Jake and Dinos Chapman’s controversial exhibition Chapmanworld; Orphan Drift’s cyberpunk novel Becoming Cyberpositive; Reza Negarestani’s theory-fiction Cyclonopedia; and Kode9’s dubstep album Nothing.

Key readings:

  • Nick Land, “Teleoplexy: Notes on Acceleration,” in #Accelerate#: The Accelerationist Reader, eds. Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2014), 509-520.
  • Excerpts from Nick Land, Crypto-Current: Bitcoin and Philosophy, 2019, Urban Future 2.1, http://www.ufblog.net/.
  • Orphan Drift, “Vampiric Machines,” in Becoming Cyberpositive (London: Cabinet Editions, 2012), 73-100.
  • Reza Negarestani, “Paleopetrology: From Gog-Magog Axis to Petropunkism,” in Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (Melbourne: Re.press, 2008), 9-37.
  • CCRU, “From Subversion to Submersion: Galactic Bureau of Investigations Report to the Galactic Federation on New Sonic Insurgencies,” in CCRU: Writings (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2017), 131-134.

Recommended readings:

Lecture 5. Accelerating Speculations: Brassier and Grant, Plant and Parisi, Srnicek and Williams

The final session will begin by tracing the CCRU’s influence on the work of Ray Brassier and Iain Hamilton Grant, two former associates who would go on to found the speculative realism “movement” along with Quentin Meillassoux and Graham Harman. On the one hand, while Grant initially adheres to the CCRU’s antihumanist thought almost entirely, he later follows Schelling’s absolute idealism by coming to model substance on subject, nature on reason. On the other hand, while Brassier adopts the CCRU’s notion of human extinction as the organon for the critique of anthropocentric philosophies, he repudiates their tendency to identify the subject of this critique with technocapitalism in favour of looking to science as better able to index the gap between the anthropic and nihilistic images of reality.

Given that the CCRU and particularly Land’s writings are largely pro-capitalist, it is perhaps surprising that they helped inspire a recent left-wing groupuscule of thinkers calling themselves “accelerationists” and “xenofeminists.” The course will conclude by looking at how both left accelerationists like Mark Fisher, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams and cyberfeminists like Sadie Plant, Luciana Parisi and Laboria Cuboniks co-opt the CCRU’s theory of cybernetics as a revolutionary weapon to be wielded against both capitalism and patriarchy.

Key readings:

  • Iain Hamilton Grant, “At the Mountains of Madness: The Demonology of the New Earth and the Politics of Becoming,” in Deleuze and Philosophy: The Difference Engineer, ed. Keith Ansell Pearson (London: Routledge, 2002), 93-111.
  • Ray Brassier, Preface and “Binding Extinction,” in Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), x-xii, 238-9.
  • Ray Brassier, “Session 1,” Accelerationism, conference, Goldsmiths, University of London, 13 September, 2010, https://moskvax.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/accelerationism-ray-brassier/.
  • Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, “#Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,” in #Accelerate#: The Accelerationist Reader, eds. Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2014), 347-362.
  • Excerpts from Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture. London: Doubleday, 1997.
  • Luciana Parisi and Stanimir Panayotov, “To Engineer the Time by Other Means: Interview with Luciana Parisi,” in Figure/Ground, 2016, http://figureground.org/interview-with-luciana-parisi/.

Recommended readings:

  • Iain Hamilton Grant, “Why Schelling? Why Naturephilosophie?,” in Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (London: Continuum, 2006), 1-25.
  • Alex Williams, “Escape Velocities,” in E-Flux, 2013, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/46/60063/escape-velocities.
  • Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, “On Cunning Automata,” in Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development Volume 8, ed. Robin Mackay (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2014), 463-505.
  • Laboria Cuboniks, “The Xenofeminist Manifesto,” in Futures and Fictions, eds. by Henriette Gunkel, Ayesha Hameed and Simon O’Sullivan (London: Repeater Books, 2017), 232-248.