Speculative Anarchism

by Arran James

“There are, you see, two ways of reading a book: you either see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you’re even more perverse or depraved you set off after signifiers. And you treat the next book like a box contained in the first or containing it. And you annotate and interpret and question, and write a book about the book, and so on and on. Or there’s the other way: you see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is “Does it work, and how does it work?” How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book. This second way of reading’s intensive: something comes through or it doesn’t. There’s nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret. It’s like plugging in to an electric circuit…This second way of reading’s quite different from the first, because it relates a book directly to what’s Outside. A book is a little cog in much more complicated external machinery… This intensive way of reading, in contact with what’s outside the book, as a flow meeting other flows, one machine among others, as a series of experiments for each reader in the midst of events that have nothing to do with books, as tearing the book into pieces, getting it to interact with other things, absolutely anything. . . is reading with love.”- Gilles Deleuze.

A while back I punted the idea of an online reading group composed of anarchos from outside or who are less familiar with the recent speculative turns in philosophy. I didn’t really follow up on that despite some interest on twitter. So here I’m going to make a more formal proposal. So here is the more formal bit:

The speculative turn is a phrase that has been used to talk about the way that recent continental philosophy has sought to explode beyond the constraints of endless talk about discourse, language, power-knowledge, textuality, and culture. At the same time the speculative turn also seeks to move passed the frozen obsession with the ‘death of man’ that has, by ceaslessly ensuring that the human, the subject, or Dasein remain the core around which philosophy circles, perpetually enacted a ‘resurrection of man’.

The speculative is about leaving the comfortable waters of human narcissism behind and venturing out once more into the “great outdoors” of objects, material processes, vibrant matter, geological and cosmological time, and thus simultaneously enacting a philosophy that rediscovers the more-than-human ecologies that we are embedded in. Much of this work offers means with which to think the materiality of power and to grasp the cartographies of capitalism.

Key to this is the common theme among the new speculative philosophers and their antecedents on leaving behind the tired distinction between nature and culture. Any anarchism today must be able to think about nature in ways that avoid reproducing the modernist trap of treating it as separate from humans- some raw material “out there” that we can ceaselessly take as exclusively our own inexhaustible means to freedom. We are embedded within ecologies and are ourselves units of alien ecologies.

Many anarchists have engaged with continental philosophy only begrudgingly or not at all. The epithets of idealism, self-importance, separation from everyday concerns, and theoretical self-indulgence, as well as a certain stale boredom, haven’t gone unanswered by certain circles of philosophers, anthropologists and sociologists.

The speculative turn towards materialism and realism offer an opportunity for anarchism to re-engage with a different kind of philosophy. The purpose of speculative anarchism reading group would be to assess whether the speculative turn is able to help us make sense of the multiple crises that we find ourselves faced with and whether there is anything that anarchists can make use of in these works. It remains an open question, although it should be noted that at least two writers featured in my list below call themselves anarchists.

The term ‘speculative turn’ may be getting old fashioned already by this point, just as the names that preceded it (“speculative realism”, “object-oriented philosophy”, “the new materialisms”) have also begun to undergo mutations, modifications, disappearances. Some of these authors are now speaking of ‘machines’ instead of objects, of posthuman life, or may be more readily understood as weird nihilists or accelerationists.

I don’t pretend that I have a comprehensive understanding of the various strands of the new materialist and realist orientations, and I don’t want to act as guide or (even less) teacher.

That said I have decided to assemble a list of books that a speculative anarchism reading group could consider looking at. It isn’t complete, not all of them are too my personal taste, and it may not cover the full range of options. This is intended to be partial and suggestive, with the final reading list open to discussion, if such a group decided to put a list together rather than drifting book-to-book, essay-to-essay as the pull of the texts demanded. Some of these texts may not be speculative philosophy at all but swim in the same uncharted waters.

For myself, I also imagine this group as a possible exercise in intensive reading– in regarding the text less as a container of information that should be killed by understanding, but met and integrated with living. So, the proposed list….some of these may be more or less immediately useful…

The Three Ecologies– Felix Guattari.

After-finitude- Quentin Meillassoux (this text is fairly foundational philosophically- but we may not really require it).

Ontocartography: an ontology of machines and media– Levi Bryant.

The ecological thought– Timothy Morton.

Bodily nature: science, environment and the material self- Stacey Alaimo.

We have never been modern– Bruno Latour.

Posthuman Life- David Roden.

nihil unbound– Ray Brassier

Extrastatecraft: the power of infrastructure space

On an ungrounded Earth– Ben Woodard.

Essays on extinction- Clair Colebrook (2 vol.s)

Stolen Future,Broken Present: the human significance of climate change- David A Collins.

Testo-Junkie::Sex drugs and biopolitics in the pharmacopornographic era- Beatriz Preciado.

Like I say, this list is illustrative of the kinds of texts any group that comes out of this might want to look at. These are the books that sprang immediately to my mind so don’t read that as indicating they are necessarily the most important or indicative (although a couple of them are). Of course there are also primers, overviews and anthologies on speculative realism, new materialism, and ‘the speculative turn’. Many of the texts related to this reorientation of philosophical practice are available as pdfs or as open access books- although some aren’t and are pricey. There are also journals such as Speculations and the expansive Collapse that circle around the same strange orbits.

I’ve never been involved in organising an online reading group (although I saw how difficult the Latour AIME group was to coordinate), so if any of y’all have more experience than me I’d be keen to hear your advice.

You can register interest either here in the comments for now or via email by contacting me via d r o n e m o d u l e [ a t ] g o o g l e m a i l . c o m and we can start circulating a group list thereafter.