To dale! or calmate… A heartfelt attempt at intellectually engaging the idea of speed in relation to Miami
…To empty the streets; it’s enough to promise everyone the highway.
– Paul Virilio
Literally everything is always moving. Sure, it’s a cliché statement, the sort of overwrought revelation likely to be had while congregating around the bong or bar or halls of academia; but nonetheless, it’s important to remember that movement is an indivisible property of existence, in terms physical, personal, cultural, political, spiritual, etc. For instance, imagine yourself standing on a street in Little Haiti and it’s 97 degrees at noon on a Sunday. You’re stunned because, at that moment, it’s so eerily quiet and empty, so very still that even the air seems immobile. Weird, right? It’s that feeling of unheimlich you get when some inhabited place just so happens to be completely devoid of life, despite all the built evidence to the contrary, the kind that strikes you deep when you’re the only soul around.
But even in those moments, you—well, the Earth, really—are in fact blasting through space at 1,000 miles per hour.1 Consider the micro end of this philosophical spectrum: atoms themselves are in a constant state of motion, even those that make up solid matter. There is a dizzying amount of movement in the universe, thank god there’s such a thing as relativity and perceptual fixes for reality’s utter chaos. It’s no wonder then that stillness and quietness are associated with being calm and stable—but why? There’s absolutely nothing in the cosmos or within us that is ever still, completely at rest. “What could be more queer than an atom?” asks Karen Barad, theorist and philosopher, in one of her papers. “And I don’t just mean strange. The very nature of an atom’s being, its very identity, is indeterminacy itself.”2
When my editor Nathaniel Sandler asked me to write about accelerationism—a dense thicket of postulations relating to po-mo concerns about capitalism, speed, and our collective hurdling towards some unknown inexplicable future—I was excited. A living wage to work on a mostly vague, too cerebral yet en vogue theoretical buzzword! On top of that, I get to write about it in relation to the city I was born and will probably die in.
However, my excitement morphed quickly into that species of dread that is only born from the sweetest irony: he told me I had a week to get it done. Full disclosure: I later found out that he said this as a way of encouraging me to write, to accelerate, not because it was a hard deadline. The method had the opposite effect; it stopped me dead in my tracks. (This, in a way, was a more perfect encapsulation of the times we live in than anything I could write, in the sense that we, as in all us humans and animals and clouds and robots, are being told that we face imminent threat and that we must make big changes before a looming deadline, but we’ve clearly missed the deadline, so what do we do?)
Three weeks later, this is what I wrote:
I was recently hanging out with artist Domingo Castillo in a park.3 Not in Miami, but in New York City, a place so entwined in Miami’s psycho-cultural development and expectations for itself. We were watching the pigeons swell up from one roof and land on another, when he pointed out that, in order to drive capital somewhere, you need to create desire first.
We got on the subject of Miami and he regaled me with a classic-if-little-known tale about Miami’s founding, one that some historians believe to be a myth. It was just after the great citrus freezes of 1894 and 1895, which severely devastated the orange industries just as they were poppin’ off. Julia Tuttle, the Mother of Miami, wanted to convince Henry Flagler (you guessed it—the Daddy) to extend his Florida East Coast Railway from Palm Beach. Henry was of course reluctant after seeing the damage that the freeze wrought, so Julia picked a bouquet of orange blossoms and sent them to him. “Here was proof, beautiful and fragrant, that there had been no freeze in the Biscayne Bay area.”4 Ah, what a romantic gesture, and for what is more sublimely enticing—the commodity, or the fetish?
(Interesting side note: Spanish colonialists were the first to introduce orange trees to Florida, but that’s a different love story.)5
Miami was officially founded in 1896, just a year after the ecological havoc that the freezing temperatures brought. Maybe you see where I’m going with this. Around 120 years later, Miami is being proclaimed as the next Atlantis,6 that it is ground zero for sea level rise.7 Even Rolling Stone had the tasteless gall to portent a future post-hurricane scenario where the Fontainebleau is inundated by sand and a dead manatee is floating in the pool.8 All the while it continues to expand into a global node of commerce, culture, and living.
Of course, as Miamians know, the flooding is getting worse. However, if you’re in touch with the history of the land/into hydrology, you also realize that all of South Florida is basically a porous coral sponge where water literally oozes from the ground. Also, you know that, historically speaking, the Biscayne Bay return address for Julia’s orange blossoms—just down the street from cultural and economic nervous system of Miami—was literally a swamp, and still wants to be. However, despite all the alarmism, for those who can’t or don’t want to leave, it’s just something we’re gonna have to contend with.
I ask Domingo, “What’s the danger of accelerating capitalism as a means of solving sea level rise? What is the hope?” He lowers his head, looks at me from over his glasses’ lenses, and says, “There is no danger if everything is insured. The insurance industry is the only hope for anyone placing their bets on this city. That’s where you cash out. People really love believing in insurance.”
The Brooklyn birds collectively lifted into the air, a beautiful parabolic network of 75 or so birds operating under some mysterious bird law, each of them landing in their own unique spot on the next roof over. (Say what you will of Miami’s time in the apocalyptic limelight—cuz New York’s doomedness is definitely gonna cast a bigger shadow.9 [Lest we forget New Orleans, yet again.]10)
This quote, from the canonical/clichéd Anti-Oedipus, came to mind: “But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one?… For perhaps the flows are not yet de-territorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process,’ as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.”11
We both looked to where the birds were, but they were gone.
Okay, just trust me for a sec and let me lay down some verbose heady shit (I hate this about as much as you do, but I’ve been trying to do it in different ways and there’s just no other way then the following way). “Accelerationism,” the term, was coined by Benjamin Noys in his book The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory.12 (Funnily enough, Noys later realized that he had read the term in Roger Zelazny’s sci-fi novel Lord of Light , and it had unconsciously filtered into his thinking.)13
Basically, in his analysis of French theorists Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, Noys found a tendency in these thinkers to swing dick and try to out-radicalize the other—perhaps an early sign of the fault lines to come in New Left politics. Resting on Marx’s assessment that capitalism’s inherent contradictions would eventually spell its undoing, these guys surmised, “then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call this theory accelerationism.”14
Noys was also responding to contemporary currents he saw in academia and art, specifically to writer Nick Land’s “theory-fictions” and the Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit, a student group that Land ran out of the University of Warwick’s philosophy department in the 1990s. The group experimented with speculative interventions—mixes of theory and art, music, and other formats—that probed cybernetic futures and science-fictional robot rave-scenes and provided nihilistic portrayals of the singularity as techno-hellscape. As Robin Mackay describes it, “Their unattributable, arcane writings, telling of strange inhuman entities, hyperstitional personages and syncretic pantheons, are uniquely disturbing and compelling: it is as if the group had collectively accessed hitherto undiscovered realms of bizarre archetypes.”15 In other words, it was like the early Internet, which was just emerging at the time: many flickerings of strangeness in a dark and wild expanse, as opposed to today’s iteration of the Internet as a multi-tiered, over-crowded and heavily surveilled mall.
In the political rainbow of accelerationism, you have everything from liberals to fascists to nihilists. There’s the Left, which includes theorists such as Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, who penned the #ACCELERATE: MANIFESTO FOR AN ACCELERATIONIST POLITICS, where they assert that global civilization is dying and it’s all neoliberal capitalism’s fault.16 However, these guys maintain that we should accelerate capitalism in order to produce more and better tools for emancipation, following a Marxian line of thinking, so that post-capitalism (a variant of socialistic or communistic paradigm) comes sooner. The more moderate liberals are those who think that entrepreneurial activity and platform capitalism will eventually flatten out social disparity (because that’s what Uber and Seamless does, of course). Then there are those on the right, which includes libertarians and technocratic conservatives who think unfettered markets and Zero Government would be better considering the massive fuck-ups that the State commits in human rights abuses, mass surveillance, and manipulations of local and global economy. And then you have your Singularity-touting Kurzweilians who think that the Borg will eventually allot us equal access to all the world’s knowledge and pleasures so that we can just hang out as our digital selves in some sort of smart cocoon or something.
Miami, supposedly the epicenter of this planetary breakdown that the Left acknowledges and fetishizes, has been described as a “model” for this experimental frontier of climate catastrophe avoidance and remittance—but also, as a model for the aesthetic qualities of global luxury development. As Evan Moffit notes in a great piece for the Miami Rail, “Abu Dhabi, with its six free zones, has taken notes from Western cities like Miami and Berlin. Miami has informed its vast new swaths of gleaming white luxury high-rises, and its sprawling suburban tracts of faux-Mediterranean villas on palm-lined avenues.”17 The foundational premise of Miami—that fantasy can come to life—seems to be approaching its apotheosis: the collective delusion is shifting from a conception of it as a paradise to a paradise-under-siege. This very idea is being commodified and culturally circulated—since all discourse is currency—as a means of increasing relevancy.
When I asked Domingo about this weird intertwining of desire and production—how social, political, and economic systems articulate our aspirations before we can develop them on our own—he said, “That’s the driving force of Miami’s existence. More so now, knowing that this won’t be here forever. Live here now because later is not an option.” When Julia sent the orange blossoms, it was a talisman of capitalist expansion after crisis. Today, luxury and culture are the amulets of Miami finance, prophetic and ironic.
As the planet warms up, condos will continue to grow unabated if they’re allowed to—this is just how nature works. Despite the views blocked by these high-rise buildings, most everyone knows what lies on the horizon, yet still, there seems an accelerating desire for more financial and cultural capital; only recently have the political and pragmatic engines been revved up for tackling climactic crises.
“Speed is a problem. Our lives are too fast, we are subject to the accelerating demand that we innovate more, work more, enjoy more, produce more, and consume more.”18
Temperature depends on the motion of atoms. The colder something is, the less quickly it moves (it’s never not moving though). The hotter something is—a plate of food, a planet—the speed picks up. Heat begets life and death—but both proliferate in hotter climates, where the conditions are ripe for life and decay.
The engine of Miami’s entire development has always been the sun (and I don’t mean in terms of kilowatt-hours—at least, not yet). Like all cities and communities, Miami is an imagined thing in the minds of its residents, tourists, and dreamers. “Miami, for example, is a place where past, present, and future have been rendered and informed by the proliferation of these imaging processes. Sultry sunsets, pink flamingos, and glistening bodies aren’t just images that fester here, they are imaginaries that motivate geopolitical and colonial fantasies of a Latin American capital or the nirvana of Boundless Markets™.”19
Miami, despite what you try to make of it in your attempt to excavate a certain “truth” about it, is really just a series of speculative fictions where the commodity shines: it started with orange juice, shifted to booze, and has since expanded to include cocaine, café Cubano, Lamborghinis, champagne, art and culture.
Now, we find artists, cultural agents, and writers looking to mine this new image of Miami as periled paradise. In a strange parallel to the continental theorists who “turned their frustration into celebration,” and “not only accepted their inability to escape capitalism; they reveled in it,”20 Miami is subject to the trends of entrepreneurialism and platform capitalism—the city is increasingly marketed as an epicenter for art, technology, and startups and its tourism and leisure industries continue as a primary source of income and branding.
This, while the critical tendency at the moment contains a stilted reliance on apocalypse narratives that lean way too heavily on the analogies of mythological aquatic cartographies, such as Atlantis and Waterworld, which are just too easy, too superficial, too passé. Though these analogies are enticingly sexier than the pragmatic things that politicians and the populace will have to demand and implement if there’s a future in Miami, they’re really just a cop-out, a projection of our collective anxiety into easily digestible memes and crappy Hollywood plots. So then, maybe the desire to re-animate the theory of accelerationism comes from an honest position: capitalism is definitely not ending anytime soon, and capitalism helped to cause so many of the crises that threaten this city and the entire planet, so again, what do we do, those of us who see the world’s inexorable problems inflicting pain and suffering on so much of humanity and non-human entities?
I asked Gean Moreno—a writer-curator-artist who has worked a good amount in this issue of accelerationism21—what his thoughts were on the possibility of the art world engendering greater change. “I think that one of the things that I’m increasingly weary about is the ‘technocratic sublime’ that all this thinking has unleashed,” he wrote back. “If you want solutions from a cultural production/art world perspective, you have to dissolve the system as it currently exists and try again. Or let it consolidate further, ride out the tendency it is on, and build out in the slums of the system that will inevitably be generated. However, if you want to imagine the worst, in consonance with how things feel, then cultural production opens the way to imagining many endings to the world—in Franz Fanon’s and other senses—and the many ways to debase it.”
Indeed, the apocalypse narrative is just one voice in the speculative chorus. The future, after all, is a fungible good; instead of massive flooding and canoe banditry, perhaps it’ll just be a slow-growing, centuries-long inconvenience that will require some speeding up of certain things: increasing the number of water pumps; raise taxes on luxury condos in flood zones as a hedge for poor communities; start building stilt-home communities; develop a trade-your-car-for-a-solar-powered-boat program.
After all, the toxic algae caused by the Big Sugar industry22—(hopefully) will recede. Zika, caused by transnational migration, will (likely) be a controlled pandemic, or a vaccine will get developed. Sea level rise, caused by an industrial world pumping carbon into the atmosphere—maybe it’ll come later, or not as bad as we expect. That sinkhole near a fertilizer plant that opened up like a gaping maw to Hell, into which approximately 215 million gallons of slightly radioactive water are now pouring into a crucial Florida aquifer23—well, not so sure what can be done about that, personally.
Maybe we as a species will just solve all these problems, or maybe the problems are a little exaggerated, or maybe the real threat will be unknown and different from what we fear most.
While there seems great need to put great minds to work on the pressing problems that plague South Florida, there’s also something to be said about overthinking it, perpetuating the intellectual and cultural spectacle of it. Perhaps this is one of the barriers to “real” change as well. Though we definitely gotta figure some shit out, the eternally repeating demand of history, we should also, on the other hand, slow some things down. Learn how to just sit quietly and hold our thoughts. Maybe we should do more talking with people outside our inner-circles, get to know other people’s problems, help people when we can; spend time with friends and family and animals and whatever else we choose to have relationships with, and try to just make small difference in those lives closest to us.
Also, maybe an entirely other history (and future) of Miami needs to be articulated. Maybe, instead of the image of the dead manatee floating in the pool at a luxury hotel, maybe we should just pitch together, in ways far simpler than art and theory begs of us, and try to help the manatee—and ourselves, including each other—so that we can continue to chill with the manatee.
This essay was originally commissioned by The Miami Rail as part of Field Perspectives- a co-publishing initiative with Miami Rail, Temporary Art Review and Common Field for the 2016 Common Field Convening.
- Rhett Herman, “How fast is the Earth moving?” Scientific American. ↩
- Karen Barad, “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” KVINDER, KØN & FORSKNING NR. 1-2, 2012. ↩
- For a competent mythography of Castillo, see Goyanes’ “SONGS FEEL LIKE MUSCLE MEMORY, OR, I’M OFF SOCIAL MEDIA, HMU ON YOUTUBE: A Mythography of Domingo Castillo,” The Miami Rail, 2015. ↩
- “Miami: 1896-1900,” Ruby Leach Carson, Tequesta, Number XVI, 1956. ↩
- Agassiz, Garnault. “Florida in Tomorrow’s Sun,” Suniland, Nov. 1925, Vol.3, No.2., Pgs. 37-45; 88-94; 113-133. ↩
- Elaine Chen, “Miami, Soon the American Atlantis?” WLRN, 2013. ↩
- Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Siege of Miami,” The New Yorker, 2015. ↩
- Jeff Goodall, “Goodbye, Miami,” Rolling Stone, 2013. ↩
- Andrew Rice, “This is New York in the not-so-distant future,” New York Mag, 2016. ↩
- Ben Myers, “Sea to swallow New Orleans eventually regardless of carbon limits, scientists say,” The Times-Picayune, 2015. ↩
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: Penguin, 1977), 239. ↩
- Gean Moreno, “Editorial—‘Accelerationist Aesthetics,’ e-flux journal, 2013. ↩
- Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism, Zero Books 2014. ↩
- Benjamin Noys, The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory, Edinburgh University Press, 2010. ↩
- Robin Mackay, “Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism,” Umělec magazine 2012/1. ↩
- Alex Wiliams and Nick Srnicek, “#ACCELERATE: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,” 2013. ↩
- Evan Moffitt, “A Speculative Storm: Contemporary Art and Real Estate Development,” The Miami Rail, 2016. ↩
- Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism, Zero Books 2014. ↩
- Statement for “An Image,” exhibition at ArtCenter South Florida, curated by Domingo Castillo and Natalia Zuluaga, 2016. ↩
- This is from a very good critique of leftist accelerationism by Fred Turner called On Accelerationism, in Public Books, 2016. ↩
- Gean Moreno, “Editorial—‘Accelerationist Aesthetics,’ e-flux journal, 2013. ↩
- “Angry About Florida’s Ruined Waters, Fisherman Unite Against Big Sugar,” Bill Kearney, Miami New Times, 2016. ↩
- “Mosaic plant sinkhole dumps 215 million gallons of reprocessed water into Floridan Aquifer,” Tamba Bay Times, 2016. ↩