A former student of philosopher — or perhaps “ex-philosopher? — Nick Land writes about the man’s work on the occasion of the publication of a collection of his writings:
Before I met Land, I already knew of him through the gossip of new undergraduates taken aback by what they had heard on the grapevine: Did Land really claim that he had come back from the dead? Did he really think he was an android sent from the future to terminate human security? In person he belied these outrageous claims (both of which he did indeed make in writing), being thoroughly polite and amiable and, above all, willing to engage in earnest conversation with anyone. He had paid his philosophical dues and could hold his own in a discussion with any professor; these discussions often turning vituperative, however, as Land railed against the institution and its conservatism. But he preferred to spend his time in the bar with undergraduates, always buying the drinks, smoking continually, and conversing animatedly (and where possible, vehemently) about any topic whatsoever.
Land was perhaps not the greatest teacher from the point of view of obtaining a sober and solid grounding in one’s subject – but more importantly, his lectures had about them a genuine air of excitement – more like Deleuze at the Sorbonne in ’68 than the dreary courses in Epistemology one had to endure at a provincial British university in the 90s. Not only was the course he taught pointedly entitled ‘Current French Philosophy’ – a currency otherwise alien to our curriculum — more importantly, Land’s teaching was also a sharing of his own research-in-progress. This was unheard-of: philosophy actually being done, rather than being interpreted at second-hand?! He would sweep his audience into a speculative vortex of philosophy, economics, literature, biology, technology, and disciplines as-yet unnamed – before immobilizing them again with some startling claim or gnomic declaration. And as Land spoke, he prowled the classroom, sometimes clambering absentmindedly over the common-room chairs like an outlandish mountain goat, sometimes poised squatting on the seat of a chair like an overgrown mantis.
Full Story: Divus: Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism
Also, Simon Reynolds wrote a piece on Land’s CCRU group back in 1999 that sheds some light on the period:
“It was pretty obvious that a theoretically Left-leaning critique could be maintained quite happily but it wasn’t ever going to get anywhere,” says Plant. “If there was going to be scope for any kind of….not ‘resistance’, but any kind of discrepancy in the global consensus, then it was going to have to come from somewhere else.” That elsewhere was certain passages in A Thousand Plateaus where Deleuze & Guattari suggest that, in Plant’s words, “you don’t try and slow things down, you encourage them to go fast as possible. Which was interestingly connected to Marx’s ideas about capitalism sweeping away the past. So we got into this stance of ‘oh well, let it sweep away! Maybe it should sweep away faster’.” Other crucial influences were neo-Deleuzian theorist Manuel De Landa’s idea of “capitalism as the system of antimarkets”, and, says Plant, historian-of-everyday-life Fernand Braudel’s conception of capitalism as “an amalgam of would-be free market forces and state/ corporate/centralised control functions. So there isn’t really any such thing called ‘capitalism’, it’s just a coincidence of those two really extreme and opposed tendencies.”
Plant and the CCRU enthuse about bottom-up, grass-roots, self-organising activity: street markets, “the frontier zones of capitalism”, what De Landa calls “meshwork”, as opposed to corporate, top-down capitalism. It all sounds quite jovial, the way they describe it now–a bustling bazaar culture of trade and “cutting deals”. But “Cyberpositive” actually reads like a nihilistic paean to the “cyberpathology of markets”, celebrating capitalism as “a viral contagion” and declaring “everything cyberpositive is an enemy of mankind”. In Nick Land solo essays like “Machinic Desire” and “Meltdown”, the tone of morbid glee is intensified to an apocalyptic pitch. There seems to be a perverse and literally anti-humanist identification with the “dark will” of capital and technology, as it “rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities”. In “Meltdown”, Land declares: “Man is something for it to overcome: a problem, drag”.
This gloating delight in capital’s deterritorialising virulence is the CCRU’s reaction to the stuffy complacency of Left-wing academic thought; a sort of rubbing salt in the wounds (as when Land jibes at the “senile spectre” of Socialism, an allusion to The Communist Manifesto). “There’s definitely a strong alliance in the academy between anti-market ideas and completely schleroticised, institutionalised thought,” says Mark Fisher. “Marx has been outdated by cybernetic theory. It’s obvious that capitalism isn’t going to be brought down by its contradictions. Nothing ever died of contradictions!”. Exulting in capitalism’s permanent “crisis mode”, CCRU believe in the strategic application of pressure to accelerate the tendencies towards chaos. The real struggle, says Fisher in fluent Deleuzian, is within capitalism and between “homogenisation processes and nomadic distribution.”.
(Both links via hautepop)
“Meltdown” is perhaps Land’s best known work.
Many of Land’s former students — including Fisher — seem to have given up this fetishization of capitalism. Some now favor of an anti-neoliberal “accelerationsim”
that sounds an awful lot like autonomism to me (see also this critique of accerlerationsim). (Update: I was missing the key point of accelerationism, which is still the idea of speeding up capitalism to watch it crash and burn).
Land, meanwhile, has ridden that neoliberal reality tunnel to its (il)logical conclusion: neo-reaction.