Accelerated Leisure: Steven Shaviro and Kero Kero Bonito's "Well Rested"
In No Speed Limit, Three Essays on Accelerationism Steven Shaviro highlights the diverging philosophical and political approaches of accelerationist thought (the basic idea that in relation to capital, according to Shaviro, “...the only way out is the way through”), from Nick Lands’ “virulent nihilism” which Shaviro equates with Thatcherism and Reaganomics, to the futuristic-marxist “economic modeling advocated by Williams and Srnicek”. Shaviro rather starts his approach to accelerationism with Sci-Fi, stating that this approach “...grasps, and brings to visibility, what Deleuze calls the virtual dimension of existence, or what Marx calls tendential processes”. I think he prefers the Sci-Fi lens to circumvent the polarizing political framework, because he then continues to defend an aesthetic starting point for accelerationist thought, stating:
“This is why accelerationism needs to be an aesthetic program first, before it can be a political one. Speculative fiction can explore the abyss of accelerationist ambivalence, without prematurely pretending to resolve it”
This version of Accelerationism interests me because part of the mission statement of this blog is to imagine the future, which is also primarily an aesthetic endeavor. The link here is that an aesthetic approach to accelerationism is firstly an attempt to visualise any post-capitalist future at all related to some kind of (creative) destruction, which is something I’m trying to incorporate into my practice. We are both starting from the virtual, in stark contrast to the other versions of accelerationism which depart from, for example, economic policy. Shaviro, in his essays, arrives at some kind of dandy attitude, referencing Oscar Wilde, where lavish surplus is used to create an independent space of “aesthetic self-cultivation” (instead of, for example, investing this surplus in more capital). Shaviro uses Kant’s aesthetic judgement as firstly “indifferent” and secondly “in itself unfit and indeterminable for cognition”. This seems to effectively counter what Shaviro earlier in the text described as the neo-liberal obsession with prediction and calculation. However mild this version of accelerationism (compared to comic book villain Landian version), it still poses a great challenge for me. While fantasizing, I can’t seem to make the dandy attitude work for me. I find it difficult to separate the image of dandy indifference from nihilistic depression. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying the aesthetic judgement, but I really do want to give a fuck about art. The feeling - including its politically-engaged dimension - that a piece of art can give me, is what makes me wake up in the morning. To me, the (political) engagement plays a crucial part in the energizing effect. One of the questions I was left with is: can you avoid the territorial forces of capitalism while harboring engaged desire (some kind of post-subject desire)? Shaviro’s proposals gave me a lot to think about. The soundtrack to these thinking sessions was the new release by one of my all-time favourite artists; British group Kero Kero Bonito.
- I recommend listening to this track before or while reading the rest of the text -
One track on Kero Kero Bonito’s recent EP Civilisation II captured me, bringing upon a state of confusion separate from, but emotionally similar to, Shaviro’s conundrums. Perhaps they even let me understand Shaviro’s accelerationism better. Their work has always been unusual - an eerie mix of cute j-pop, retro video game music, and depressing punk, though it had never really repulsed me, until I heard Well Rested. Their sound has often shifted over the years, but their music has always slapped. There has always been this contradictory, bitter, combination of heavy yet playful production mixed with childlike lyrics and vocals. The depressing subjects are set aflame with sudden aggressive turns in production style, revealing some sort of darkness under their playful demeanor. This darkness has often been that of the agreeable kind (unlike the darkness that Kanye West continuously brings to the table). For example: the ending of Only Acting is absolutely sonically disturbing, crushing the already distorted punk-rock guitar to truly ear-bleeding noise, but it fits the theme and vibe of the song, so I loved it from first listen. It still “made sense”. Well Rested, on the other hand, is dark in a more existential way. I caught myself grinding my teeth with expanded pupils (in a pavlovian manner) to a song that I can only describe as a cyber-dystopian house bop with eerie preacher-like vocals. The song gave me goosebumps, but the type that was caused by fear rather than love. Something felt off. I could not comprehend why I liked it. I thought the lyrics were repulsive and cult-like and the authoritarian sound of the house beat made me feel small... yet I couldn’t stop listening to it.
I find myself in a similar relationship with accelerationism: repulsed yet entranced. It’s such a crude and powerful, yet likewise melancholic and romantic, way of looking at the hyperproblem of capital that seems to be nebulously linked to the end of The World (whatever The World may be). I think Kero Kero Bonito’s music operates exactly to illustrate this odd predicament, yet they don’t stop at the observation that “the only way out is through” - they sketch a way of dealing with its results. Their proposition is not that different from Shaviro’s; they have remarkably offered leisure and self-cultivation as a meaningful attitude to capitalist alienation throughout their discography. In their earlier work it would be in the form of choosing-to-be-naivetype songs like Break or Trampoline, the earliest example being the dub-inspired I’d Rather Sleep.
- I added Rest Stop as a bonus :) -
In these three songs they seem to have a general wish to regain some kind of childlike bliss, apparently lost in the process of growing up, after being confronted with the harsh impersonal conditions of alienated adult life. I’d Rather Sleep might be the most literal version of this lyrically. Trampoline shows us the meaningful mechanics of fun that are easy to forget when faced with the come-down of capitalist adulthood. Even though a darker interpretation of those songs is also possible, they focus on a very simple hope: take a break and just have some fun. Well Rested is the first to engage head-on with the emotional ambivalence of accelerationism both sonically and lyrically. It does not not avoid or turn away from (or take a break from) the capitalist dystopia, it rather uses it as its setting. The eager production conjures the image of an improvised basement club with neon lighting, or a desolate barren plain housing only a huddle of industrial speakers and a futon or two. There would be a hypnotized crowd in half-slumber, their bodies moving to the commands of the beat. Sarah Bonito’s sermon guides them in their trance. They dance until they slowly flutter to the ground. The speakers flicker off, still playing some kind of a static. Water starts to cover the trampled dancefloor. As it washes away the slumbering bodies of the crowd, the flow of water blends together with the speaker static. When the lights turn on or the sun rises, all that is left is a fertile floor where new dancers can be planted the next night. Where the KKB of the past might have wanted to combine nostalgia with a sense of capitalist realism, Well Rested strips away the warm fantasies of that convergence and emphasizes necessary sacrifice. What I find aesthetically pleasing about accelerationism is this notion of having given up on actually trying to “save” The World - it rather presents a strategy to make lemonade out of the proverbial lemon of a self-proclaimed inevitable destruction and death. In that sense KKB and Steven Shaviro sketch a similar image. In the face of impending destruction, they both seem to describe some kind of cult of the living. As Shaviro puts it: “The human agenda is reset at the last possible moment: with victory unattainable, sheer survival becomes the only remaining goal.” KKB started their Civilisation project forewarning the fires that will set our world ablaze in When the Fires Come. The outro of Well Rested, as the last track of the Civilisation project, shows us what comes after the blaze: flowing water as the unadulterated desire to live, placed in the context of incendiary cyber dystopia.