Hyperstition and the Left
“According to the tenets of Hyperstition, there is no difference in principal between a universe, a religion or a hoax.” Ccru
“For years, I thought I was making all this up. But they were telling me what to write…giving me the power to make it all real.” Sutter Cane
Hyperstition – a term coined in the 1990s by the Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit (Ccru) – loosely defined, refers to ‘fictions that make themselves real.’
The term seems to have gained some traction in recent years with many references being made to it in recent left-leaning political theory, and many proclaiming their projects to be hyperstitional in nature. Hyperstition also seems to offer a means to grasp some of the more unsettling political movements we face in a resurgent right.
The Ccru was founded by Nick Land and Sadie Plant in 1995 at Warwick University, and then disowned by the University in 1997. In the ensuing years to around 2003 it collectively developed a body of work that crossed genres and registers to blend science fiction, occult mysticism, experimental writing and critical theory. Across this sprawling output, published largely online at the currently defunct ccru.net and in zines such as Abstract Culture and Collapse, the concept of hyperstition is performatively developed and expanded.
The group continued, following Plant’s early departure. It would go on to count Ray Brassier, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Kodwo Eshun, Mark Fisher, Matthew Fuller, Steve Goodman (aka Kode9), Anna Greenspan, Iain Hamilton Grant, Robin Mackay, Reza Negarestani and Luciana Parisi among its associates.
In their texts fictional personae interact with historical figures in academic investigations of more or less real events. A mythology arises that pits trans-temporal beings against one another in a war across ages. The Numogram – The Decimal Labyrinth – is ‘discovered’ opening the gates to a host of demons. The techno-u/dys-topian spirit of the ‘90s runs through the work of Ccru and is visible in its predilection for collectivity, the apparent belief in the immanent coming of AI and its obsession with Y2K and the millennium bug.
Reality via Ccru is to be understood as composed of fictions. Ccru draws on Gilles Deleuze, who draws on Henri Bergson, to think of these fictions as ‘virtual’ potentialities undergoing ‘degrees of realization’. ‘Belief’ becomes impossible, and indeed irrelevant. Everything is produced.
Ccru itself takes on the consistency of a hyperstitional project. Much fiction and speculation about the Ccru abounds. There seems to be something of the cultural malaise identified by Fisher in ‘Capitalist Realism’ (2009, Zero Books) about the romance many people seem to have with their moment; a feeling of this being ‘the last time things were great.’ Rumours and tales of drug-fuelled intensity surface, but there’s also a longing for a moment where popular culture, music, technology and theory seemed to gel and converge, gaining consistency in a productive forward-thrust not seen since. There is a lot of rumour about who did what, which seems to run counter to a decentring collective spirit that sought to do away with egos and Personalities. People were touched by their experiences with and of Ccru; people who were more or less close and associated.
When Ccru disbanded in the early 2000s its members went their different ways. Land for his part has been accused (quite rightly it seems) of being the intellectual weight behind the Alt-Right. His concepts of the ‘Dark Enlightenment’ and the ‘Cathedral’ have become central to a strand of thought known as Neo-Reaction (NRx) which argues for ethnic monocultures, crafting pseudo-scientific rationales for the genetically pre-disposed intellectual superiority of particular racial groups. While defenders argue that this itself is some kind of hyperstitional project I remain unconvinced, and in any case question to what destructive ends this production might be deployed.
Hyperstition after Ccru
With Land’s move to the right in mind an interesting question to ask might be why certain productions stick and gain momentum, while others do not?
In a text on Hyperstition which draws heavily on an interview with Land, artist Delphi Carstens offers the examples of Judeo-Christian theology and free-market capitalism as examples of effective hyperstition; fictions that have affected wholesale socio-economic overhauls of western and indeed, increasingly global, society. Carsten’s text is posted on the website of Mer Maggie Roberts, a key collaborator of Ccru as part of collaborative artist, 0rphan Drift.
In ‘The Thing That Knowledge Cannot Eat’ (Published in ‘Fiction as Method’, eds. Jon K Shaw and Theo Reeves-Evison, 2017, Sternberg Press) Carstens and Roberts argue for the primacy of the “affective registers of horror and the supernatural” in generating effective hyperstitional projects. Science Fiction plays a key role in the necessary making new and creating wonder intrinsic to a hyperstitional undertaking. Mer and 0D embrace a world in flux and undergoing redefinition through the contemporary techno-scientific reengineering of subject-object relations.
Fisher, by contrast to Land, became a strident voice of the left, dismayed by the impoverished life served up by late capitalism and the dismal future that faced the young. Fisher’s spirit ran through the Ccru enterprise; in an obituary piece publisher Robin MacKay wrote of Fisher’s “overpowering enthusiasm and determination to ‘produce’ (not just ‘think about’! he would insist) within and across multiple cultural forms and disciplines.”
Throughout his output as a writer and teacher Fisher repeatedly returned to the idea that the future has been cancelled; that neo-liberal late capitalism has created a pervasive and destructive impression that there was no outside and no alternative (what he termed ‘Capitalist Realism’). For Fisher the key was to create positive new political imaginaries and when they appeared he embraced these with infectious enthusiasm. In ‘Luxury Communism: A conversation between Mark Fisher and Judy Thorne’ (Published in Futures and Fictions, Eds Henriette Gunkel, Ayesha Hameed and Simon O’Sullivan, Repeater, 2017) Thorne asserts, “We need to invent fictions about the future, in order to then make them real.”
She enthuses about the ‘libidinal energy’ generated by clashing together the terms ‘Luxury’ and ‘Communism’ when naming this vision for the future. This seems to be the perennial task of the left: the need to create a positive vision that can galvanise support enough to take on its own life. Might hyperstition offer a tool to do this successfully?
Fisher elaborates, “Much of capitalism functions through hyperstitional processes… we need to think about what a communist hyperstitional practice would look like.” Fisher cites the ‘hype’ of marketing where the assertion of a product’s success in the marketplace is deployed in order to render it successful, drawing a parallel with the example of class consciousness as a ‘a self-fulfilling circuit’ that “does not passively reflect an already-existing state of affairs [but] actively intervenes to produce something new.”
We might ask: what renders one marketing campaign successful and another a failure? Equally, what renders one revolution successful and another a failure? What renders one hyperstitional project successful and another not?
Leftist political theorists Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek have also taken up the hyperstitional mantel. In 2013 Srnicek and Williams co-authored the ‘#Accelerate Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics’ which laid the foundations for Left Accelerationist thought. The basis of this thought is that dropping out from or resisting capitalism will not lead to a post-capitalist future, and that only way out is through.
In ‘Inventing The Future’ (Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, Verso, 2015) the pair attempted to shape a vision of what a post capitalist left accelerationist future might look like. They advocate for Universal Basic Income and the repurposing of technology towards emancipatory ends. They invoke the efficacy of hyperstition to “[catalyse] dispersed sentiment into a historical force that brings the future into existence,” asserting that, “[hyperstitions] have the temporal form of ‘will have been’.”
This gathering together of latent, dispersed ‘sentiments’ seems essential to a successful hyperstional programme. The future perfect ‘will have been’ grants things an apparent inevitability in retrospect – let’s not forget that everything is produced and someone or some group has driven events in a direction they wanted to. The terrifying thing in our present political climate is that those on the right seem to be so effective in manipulating this towards their ends.
Land in his early writing constructs a far more apocalyptic vision of a Right Accelerationist future. For Land, capitalism itself is the engine and end point – doing away with humanity when it becomes a ‘drag’, slowing the process down.
‘Xenofeminism: A politics for Alienation’ (The XF Manifesto), collectively authored by Laboria Cuboniks and published online in 2015 at laboriacuboniks.net, is another recent leftist political project that makes claims towards its hyperstitional efficacy.
The text reads manifesto-like with force and libidinal charge, railing against “futureless repetition on the treadmill of capital… submission to the drudgery of labour, productive and reproductive alike…[and] reification of the given masked as critique.” Its focus on alienation has clear nods to Ccru who boasted of [being] ‘Alienated and loving it.’
Xenofeminism [XF] argues for a politics founded on gender-abolition (“Let a hundred sexes bloom!”) that embraces technological progress as a means to move beyond the so-called ‘natural.’ It does not fall into an anti-natal politics like Donna Harraway’s ‘Staying with the Trouble’ (Duke University Press, 2016) (“make kin not kids”) but instead points the finger at a social/political system that makes reproduction so impossible outside of the traditional nuclear family model: “We see too well that reinventions of family structure and domestic life are currently only possible at the cost of either withdrawing from the economic sphere–the way of the commune–or bearing its burdens manyfold–the way of the single parent.”
The manifesto attempts to think through recent developments in philosophical thinking from a feminist point of view, and through feminism from the point of view of recent philosophical developments. Building on key canonical feminist text such as Harraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and 1990s Cyberfeminism, key strains of (Left) Accelerationist thinking are evident (“We take politics that exclusively valorize the local in the guise of subverting currents of global abstraction, to be insufficient.”)
The manifesto ends with the polemic mantra “If nature is unjust, change nature!”
The text is intensely future-orientated, while gathering together many strains of feminist, queer and trans thought. It is hypersitional in its strident statement of a future position from which it writes. The collectivity of the Laboria Cuboniks enterprise enables a broadening of its position and a wide-cast net that draws in a range of influences and positions.
Luciana Parisi observes in her analysis of the text, ‘Automate Sex: Xenofeminism, Hyperstition and Alienation’ (published in Futures and Fictions), “Hyperstition here concerns not the longing for a lost past, or the wish for an impossible future, but the meticulous weaving of parts, enveloping the unknown in the present, gnawing at the futurities of the moment.”
The question we must ask is how might these fictions make themselves real?
In ‘Accelerationism, Hyperstition and Myth-Science’ Simon O’Sullivan examines and the work of Williams and Srnicek via a look at 2 sets of ‘ingredients’ given for hyperstition:
The first, from Ccru, is a four-part definition of hyperstition:
- Element of effective culture that makes itself real.
- Fictional quantity functional as a time-traveling device.
- Coincidence intensifier.
- Call to the Old Ones.
Point 3 references in essence an aspect alluded to earlier, whereby the question of belief becomes irrelevant when we understand any sense of reality of being composed of fictions. Point 1 here refers us towards another aspect of Ccru mythology which must be expanded another time, but which from this reader’s perspective reveals and expands the fundamentally fictive nature of the seemingly given numerical underpinnings of decimal numbering systems.
On the 2nd element via Ccru: ‘Fictional quantity functional as a time-traveling device.’ O’Sullivan states that Hyperstition “operates as a future vision thrown back to engineer its own history.” For Land this was often Artificial Intelligence, lying in wait in the future to do away with humanity, and to which end capitalism was the engine.
We find this element at work in the XF Manifesto too, which adopts the future perfect, ‘this will have been’ referred to by Williams and Srnicek. This looping between future, present and past is key.
O’Sullivan turns our attention back these elements and looks at the invocation of hyperstitional practices in the political projects outlined by Williams and Srincek. What is found lacking is Ccru’s 4th element, the ‘Call to the Old Ones’ echoed in Negarestani’s 2nd aspect, ‘Mythos’.
Both of these reference H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos – a series of horror fictions developed in the early 20th century and since further developed by numerous writers and filmmakers including Alan Moore and John Carpenter. Lovecraft’s ‘Weird Fiction’ centres on the resurfacing of dormant, ancient, destructive, inhuman forces outside of our time, space and scale, which spill into our world with delirious effect.
The lack of attention to mythos in left hyperstitional projects appears to be to its detriment. “Put simply,” O’Sullivan asserts, “myth is often at the service of a reactionary Right rather than a progressive Left.”
At a popular level Brexit and its call to the era of British triumph over the world in its colonial past is an example. We see it too in the Democrats promise of more of the same post-Obama by contrast to Trump’s Make America Great Again – a call to past that most probably never existed but remains compelling. There is also the failure of the Remain campaign to create a positive future vision beyond the avoidance of “uncertainty”.
O’Sullivan calls for “constructions of the affective alongside the conceptual” which chimes with 0D/Roberts identification with the language of SF and horror fiction, and also Fisher/Thorne’s praise for the ‘libidinal energy’ of clashing concepts together. O’Sullivan quite rightly points to the compelling energy found in Land’s anti-humanist early works. We find this energy too in the XF Manifesto, which also adopts the affective language of SF favoured by Roberts and 0D.
John Carpenter’s ‘In The Mouth of Madness’ (1994), perhaps points us towards some conclusory remarks. The film gets several references on the Hyperstition Blog.
Carpenter explores the world of horror writer Sutter Cane whose fictions drive those who read them insane. John Trent (played by Sam Neil) is brought in to investigate the writer’s disappearance. As things play out it emerges that Cane’s fictions are creeping into reality and eventually that something quite akin the Lovecraftian Old Ones is driving the whole thing forward. “For years,” confesses Cane, “I thought I was making all this up. But they were telling me what to write…giving me the power to make it all real.”
Hyperstition in its weaving of parts, attention to mythos and intensifying of latent elements is a combination of what can be willed and what wills you. Roberts and Carstens advocate the use of I Ching as a tool to navigate a world of complexity – enmeshed as we are between advanced global capitalism, hyperobjects and our physical selves.
For 0D this becomes a tool allowing a practitioner to embrace uncertainty and destabilization and to open up to the outside. Hyperstition becomes about tuning in to what is acting through you and trying to channel it. To be open to and to understand what acts through you is perhaps key.
The question then is not what hyperstition can do for you, but what you can do for hyperstition.
Tim Dixon is a curator, writer, researcher and Deputy Director of Matt’s Gallery, based in London.