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Capital's fastness as sticking point.

Before "fastness" had anything to do with speed, it referred to the quality of being firmly or securely fixed (OED). Somewhere in Middle English, its meaning shifted to refer to closeness or immediacy with the idea of rapid movement only later being reflected in adjectival use. It is this last sense of quickness that is taken up most directly in current references to fast capitalism. Capitalism gains its momentum by reducing points of fastness, eroding points of security to increase the rapid accrual of profit, or so the story goes.

In the critical culture arising around fast capitalism, its speed is often posed as the core of its evil, perhaps most famously by Paul Virilio, but also by Sunday magazine critics lamenting the breakneck pace of modern living who advocate instead for slower choices. Slowness has also been taken up in more radical positions, from Bartleby, who prefers not to, to Franco "Bifo" Berardi, who argues for the political potential in expanded notions of both psychic and social depression. What these accounts have in common is a binary sense of fast/slow: if one is slow, one resists fast capitalism; if one is fast, one cannot be radical.

When individuals begin to become immobilized psychically, emotionally, or physically, the rapid, exuberant flow of neoliberal capitalism has reached its limit--fast capitalism has fully eroded points of fastness, but, instead of an unrestricted, quick-flowing freedom, many of those who live here find themselves caught in eddies or whirlpools. From these situations--what Lauren Berlant calls impasses--one can neither move forward nor backward; instead, the best that can be hoped is merely to keep up. For many the affective experience of what Berardi calls "the universe running too fast" is one of inertia (180).

In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari describe the experience of psychic chaos in terms of "infinite speeds that blend into the immobility of the colourless and silent nothingness they traverse" (201); against this threat of blankness, the brain grasps at any thread of order, they suggest. This description of the brain and thought works as a metaphor for the experience of fast capitalism: there are those who live in the chronic vacancy and invisibility spawned by its chaotic speeds. Working on a just-in-time schedule, enduring long commutes, shouldering loads of debt, one can experience the churn of fast capital as a kind of fast-paced slow violence from which there is no clear exit. This is not a fastness of security but a fastness of fixity, of impasse. A fastness of imposed inertia, even within a culture of speed; an inability to get ahead, to ever move fast enough.

To this problem the meagre solution posed by neoliberal mantras is to create greater self-generated momentum--try harder, pull up your bootstraps, never surrender.

However, to find an alternative in refusal, in the choice not to try at all, also casts velocity as wilful. For those spinning in the demanding roil of fast capitalism, the call to slow down disregards the fastness of their velocity, the fastness of capitalism itself as a way of life from which there often seems to be no obvious exit. Calls for slowness or slow downs as the site of radical opposition to fast capitalism must account for the ways experiences and affects of imposed slowdown, stuckness, and inertia--as much as situations of velocity, speed, and momentum--work with the current neoliberal tide rather than fight against it. In this context, slowness, like fastness, may not move slowly at all but, instead, manifests as the inability to find a fastness--a secure foothold--from which to step. Affects like depression or cynicism thus may have to do with what Lee Edelman might call a lack of futurity stemming from the situation of impasse. However, to claim this position as radical demands recognition of the ways in which affects and situations of stuckness are unevenly distributed and embedded in the function of the current structures of capitalism. There are those who can slow down--whether to radical effect or merely to chew their food more effectively--and there are those already caught in neoliberalism's viscous demands and affects for whom adjustments of momentum can be at best inconsequential and at worst fatal.

Carolyn Veldstra

University of Alberta

Carolyn Veldstra is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta. Her research considers cynicism as an affect produced by the constraint of some subjects under neoliberal forms of governance and economy. She has published in the journals Comedy Studies, JAC, and The Nordic Journal for English Culture.

Works Cited

Berardi, Franco "Bifo." The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. Trans. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia. Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2009.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke up, 2011.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. What is Philosophy? New York: Columbia up, 1994.

Edelman, Lee. No Future. Durham: Duke up, 2004.
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Title Annotation:capitalism
Author:Veldstra, Carolyn
Publication:English Studies in Canada
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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