Cybernetic Culture Research Unit
The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) was an experimental cultural theorist collective based out of Warwick University, England, from 1995 to 1997, and later as a student run collective after 2003. It garnered reputation for its idiosyncratic and surreal "theory-fiction" which incorporated cyberpunk and Gothic horror, and their work has since had an online cult following related to the rise in popularity of accelerationism. Warwick University maintains that the CCRU was never a sanctioned academic project, with some faculty going so far as to assert that the CCRU "has never existed". The published works of the CCRU are strongly associated with, and influenced by, feminist and cultural theorist Sadie Plant, and philosopher Nick Land.
Sadie Plant formed the collective around 1993-1994 as a cyberfeminist research group. Eventually, Nick Land became the driving force in determining its methods and ideas. Other major contributors included Kodwo Eshun and Stephen Metcalf, as well as other colleagues whose research were inspired by emerging nihilist, psychoanalytic and materialist theory.
In addition to drawing inspiration from French critical theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, to which references can be found in the CCRU's writings, the collective drew inspiration from other writers including H. P. Lovecraft, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard, and Carl Jung.
The connections made leading up to the formation of the CCRU and during the its tenure eventually lead to the Virtual Futures conferences. The conferences, organised from 1994–96, were initially founded by Joan Broadhurst, Dan O’Hara, Otto Imken, Eric Cassidy, and postgraduate students under the aegis of the Warwick Centre for Research in Philosophy and Literature.
Stephen Metcalf was a central player in CCRU's creation. His essay "Autogeddon" is included in the 1998 Virtual Futures book published by Routledge, and in 1996, Metcalf translated, edited and published a collection of texts by Friedrich Nietzsche, Hammer of the Gods: Apocalyptic Texts for the Criminally Insane, that reflected and influenced how Nietzsche was being read by those who formed the CCRU at the time.
Plant left her academic post and affiliation with the CCRU in 1997, leading the collective to come under the influence and direction of Land. According to Robin Mackay, by around 1998, "the CCRU became quasi-cultish, quasi-religious". Mackay mentions having "left before it descended into sheer madness", with Iain Hamilton Grant asserting that the later excesses drove several members into mental breakdown. Under his leadership, the collective became increasingly experimental and unorthodox in its work, with its output including writing, performance events, music and collaborative art, and exploring post-structuralism, cybernetics, science fiction, rave culture, and occult studies. The CCRU's written output was largely self-published in zines such as Collapse and Abstract Culture, and many of these writings are maintained online on the website for the CCRU.
Land's antisocial behavior, reliance on amphetamines, and increasingly experimental writing at this time led academics and contemporaries to distance themselves from him, and he eventually left his academic post following accusations that he was dealing drugs to students. As a consequence, the CCRU could no longer use space at, or claim affiliation with Warwick University. CCRU continued to operate from a flat in Leamington Spa up until its disestablishment in 2003.
Members and affiliates
Those who were affiliated with the CCRU during and after its time as part of the University of Warwick Philosophy department include philosophers Stephen Metcalf, Iain Hamilton Grant, Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani; cultural theorists Mark Fisher and Kodwo Eshun; publisher and philosopher Robin Mackay; digital media theorists Luciana Parisi and Matthew Fuller; electronic music artist and Hyperdub label head Steve Goodman, a.k.a. Kode9; writer and theorist Anna Greenspan; sound theorist Angus Carlyle; novelist Hari Kunzru; and artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, among others.
Land and the CCRU collaborated frequently with the experimental art collective 0[rphan]d[rift>] (Maggie Roberts and Ranu Mukherjee), notably on Syzygy, a month-long multidisciplinary residency at Beaconsfield Contemporary Art gallery in South London, 1999, and on 0[rphan]d[rift>]'s Cyberpositive (London: Cabinet, 1995), a set of texts which demonstrated CCRU's approaches.
Legacy and controversy
Urbanomic and Time Spiral Press published a collection of texts by the CCRU entitled CCRU: Writings 1997-2003 in 2015, which garnered high reception and renewed interest in the collective's writings, mythology and overall approach to speculative fiction and philosophy. None of the work is attributed, but largely appears to be written by Land or under his strong influence, and although it states in the collection that it is a complete collection, this does not appear to be accurate. The role played by Land, Plant, and the CCRU in the development of the fringe philosophy accelerationism, a term originating from Land's 1995 essay "Meltdown", is profound, and contemporary debates around accelerationism have concerned the viability and utility of Land's ideas with the CCRU.
Accelerationism as it was deployed by CCRU is distinct from the term more frequently associated with Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams' text "Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics". Land himself makes this distinction clear in his commentary on the manifesto, but Land's version of accelerationism which he developed in the early 2010s notoriously incorporates explicitly racist, esoteric and anti-egalitarian views, and since late 2016 has been increasingly recognized as an inspiration for the alt-right.
American electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never, who credited the CCRU's writings as an influence on his 2018 song "Black Snow" from his album Age Of, initially received negative reception after acknowledging their influence. The artist later indicated that he was not interested in the alt-right transition that Land made, which happened after Land's involvement in the CCRU.
The doctoral theses of several CCRU members and associates, submitted to Warwick University in the late 1990s and early 2000s, are available online and provide another perspective on the research of the CCRU.
- Alien Theory: The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter by Ray Brassier
- Capitalism's Transcendental Time Machine by Anna Greenspan
- Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction by Mark Fisher
- Touch-Sensitive: Cybernetic Images and Replicant Bodies in the Post-Industrial Age by Suzanne Livingston
- Turbulence: A Cartography of Postmodern Violence by Steve Goodman
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- Eric Cassidy, one of the organisers The Virtual Futures
- Virtual Futures Twitter account, 11 November 2017, names these four organisers and states that the idea Ccru was involved is 'revisionist history'. This was retweeted by Joan Broadhurst
- Simon Reynolds, "Renegade Academia", unpublished feature for Lingua Franca, 1999. Accessed 27 December 2014.
- Beckett, Andy (11 May 2017). "Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
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- "0rphan Drift :: Neo Future > CTM13 Berlin". www.orphandriftarchive.com.
- "Ccru: Writings 1997-2003". Retrieved September 13, 2015.
- Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian, 'Introduction' to #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2014) pp.1-46
- Williams, Alex; Srnicek, Nick (14 May 2013). "#ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics".
- Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams, ‘#Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,’ Dark Trajectories: Politics of the Outside, ed. Joshua Johnson (Hong Kong, NAME, 2013)
- Nick Land, #Accelerate Archived 2015-09-29 at the Wayback Machine; Annotated #Accelerate (1, 2, 3); On #Accelerate (1, 2a, 2b, 2c), series of posts made on Urban Future 2.1 between 13 February and 11 March 2014.
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- Klein, Jessica (3 January 2019). "Here's the Dark Enlightenment Explainer You Never Wanted". Breaker Mag.
- "Oneohtrix Point Never's vision of a post-apocalyptic, AI-ruled future | Dazed". Dazed. Retrieved May 19, 2018.
- Brassier, Ray (2001) 'Alien theory: the decline of materialism in the name of matter'
- Greenspan, Anna (2000) 'Capitalism's transcendental time machine'
- Fisher, Mark (1999) 'Flatline constructs: Gothic materialism and cybernetic theory-fiction' ''
- Livingston, Suzanne (1998) 'Touch-sensitive: cybernetic images and replicant bodies in the post-industrial age' ''
- Goodman, Steve (1999) 'Turbulence: a cartography of postmodern violence'