Nick Land, who is the philosopher of cyberpunk

Nick Land, who is the philosopher of cyberpunk

Nick Land

"Collapse: Planetary China Syndrome, Dissolution of Biosphere into Technosphere, Terminal Crisis of Asset Bubbles, Ultraviruses, and Revolution Stripped of All Christian-Socialist Eschatology". These feverish lines, which despite their difficult interpretation seem written yesterday, date back instead to 1994 and are taken from one of the best known essays by Nick Land, Meltdown , which has recently reappeared together with other texts in the volume Collasso (Luiss University Press).

It is just one of the many prophecies - but the correct term is hyperstitions: phenomena which, once enunciated, condition the course of events (in a way not unlike self-fulfilling prophecies) - of this British philosopher who is now sixty . To be one of the figures who most foreshadowed the times we live in, Nick Land's name is still unknown to the general public, despite the fairly recent rediscovery linked to the (temporary) success of Accelerationism: a philosophical current he first founded and then repudiated (as we will see later).

To have just a quick idea of ​​his impact on our age, just think that he could be the direct inspirer of the motto "move fast and break things" which conditioned the overwhelming, careless, sometimes chaotic approach of many of the most important startups in the digital world: "Nick Land's accelerationism is linked to the Silicon Valley belief that markets must move at great speed and that technology must be disruptive," he writes for example the essayist Nicholas Blincoe, who was a student of Land.

The shadow of Nick Land, however, stands out in an even more disturbing way over another of the phenomena that characterize our era: the rise of the alt-right that led to the victory of Donald Trump and, more overall, helped give the far right a whole new appeal. How could an almost unknown philosophy professor whose most important texts date back to the mid-1990s have played such an important role? To understand it, you have to start from the beginning.

Beginnings and studies

Born somewhere in Great Britain in 1962, Nick Land leaves traces of himself the moment he starts teaching Philosophy – not yet thirty – at the University of Warwick, not far from Birmingham. In a phase in which analytic philosophy is already rampant in English-speaking countries, its main references are all purely continental: Deleuze, Guattari, Bataille, Lyotard and above all Nietzsche (to whom we will return later).

Right away , it is clear that Nick Land does not represent the philosophy teacher of the collective imagination. “When I knocked on his office I always heard a frantic noise in response: it was him hastily putting away his hashish paraphernalia, after which there was a 'who is it?' almost breathless. He was stoned and his office stank. But he was able to radiate an excitement that made philosophy exciting ” , his former student Nicholas Blincoe always recounts.

In his years at Warwick, Land's fundamental project is to “accelerate culture” : to allow new ideas to flourish, freeing themselves from the old and dusty world of traditional academia. And it is precisely for this purpose that, around 1994, Land founded the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru), one of the first movements to address the issues of artificial intelligence and the role of humanity in a world dominated by technology. The reports of the meetings and conferences of the Ccru tell of amphetamines, electronic and jungle music (ancestor of today's drum&bass), syncopated texts full of cyber-neologisms, creating an atmosphere more similar to that of a night event somewhere underground club than what is expected of an academic department.

Thinkers gather around him who will later have important roles in the philosophical and political thought of the following decades: Mark Fisher, Luciana Parisi, Steve Goodman, Sadie Plant, Robin Mackay and more. It was in these years that he enunciated his most famous text, the aforementioned Meltdown , where Land presents himself as a sort of cyber-Nietzsche , expressing himself with very short and suggestive periods, at times absolutely incomprehensible yet (read in their entirety) capable of give a glimpse of what is pulsing beneath the socio-economic terrain: “Government collapses disastrously. His recession unfolds an urban warfare scenario of arterial roads, fortifications, and zones of uncontrolled fire, patrolled by a combination of LAPD intensive airforce and borderline Nazi private security organizations.” In an age of surveillance, far right, riots that reach into the heart of the most powerful democracy and more, reading these lines is not so much reminiscent of a dystopian novel: instead it gives shape to our darkest fears for the future.

The Dark Enlightenment

The feverish experience of the Ccru did not last long, however: between 1997 and 1998 the original group began to leave Warwick (where it was frowned upon), while the movement founded by Nick Land slips into the arms of esotericism, numerology, the occult and millenarianism, becoming more and more like a religious sect. "I left before he plunged into complete madness," recalls - speaking to the Guardian - Robin Mackay. Already in the early 2000s, the Ccru is a thing of the past, while Nick Land (after a nervous breakdown also caused by substance abuse) disappears from the public scene.

He will reappear a few years later in Shanghai, electrocuted from a China that, in his eyes, appears as "the greatest political engine of economic and social development that the world has ever seen" . A nation that, thanks to the union of Marxism and capitalism and a development that proceeds at a frenetic pace, embodies the accelerationist spirit in many ways. It is here - by now completely detaching himself from his disciples, who will instead give life to left-wing Accelerationism - that Nick Land becomes the theorist of the so-called Dark Enlightenment: neo-reactionary political theory, which rejects egalitarianism and combines ultraliberalism and social conservatism.

Does it remind you of anything? It is also starting from Land's new theories that on the internet - and in particular on Reddit - groups of nerds begin to gather who make the theories of the Dark Enlightenment their own, mixing them with memes, magical practices and other follies. Except that this movement will not stop at the forums, but will make a substantial contribution to the election of Donald Trump, the perfect embodiment of Nick Land's reactionary, accelerationist, ultra-capitalist, apocalyptic theories. Which, thus, somehow brings his vision of the "Collapse" to completion, with the more classic mechanism of hyperstition.

And now? One of his last noteworthy essays is dedicated, it will not be surprising to find out, to bitcoins. For the rest, little is known of what this character is up to: a dystopian and cyberpunk philosopher (often cited by him) who already in 1994 had grasped some fundamental features of the future that would come, describing them however with a language worthy of Ghost in the Shell : “At the signal of the virus that connects us to the matrix, we cross the threshold and slip into the machine, which was waiting for convergence with our nervous system. Our human mask falls off, the skin peels off easily and reveals gleaming electronics."

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