What is Cute Accelerationism?

By Alex Mazey

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The aesthetic turn in philosophy is beginning to grasp the miscible ways in which the political economy is explicitly bound by a hyperculture of transaesthetics; an observation made casually demonstrable through the neon signs of nail salons that today stipulate, Women Hate Andrew Tate. I am aware that the word aesthetician stands in association with hair and beauty salons – the kind of salons sometimes seen on highstreets everywhere. More specifically, the kind I have observed in shopping mall basements.

In the shopping mall local to me, for example – a shopping centre (to use the British equivalency) which has been established thirty-five years now  – it appears as if the architects had attempted to emulate in the mall’s basement design the street markets of an industrial town, relegating this outlay to the basement floor only. Above this architectural emulation exists the post-industrial mode of consumption traditionally associated with such locations, all the semiotic pollution of the high street made insusceptible to weather, existing in the eternal twilight of the nonplaced interiority.

When I pass through the basement level with its flaky red-paint gumball machine and Love-O-Meter compatibility test, I stand awhile outside a certain aesthetician’s booth drinking Superdrug acquired Capri Sun and eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream purchased from a vending machine, no less.

I am often drawn in by the advertisements that adorn nail salons in particular, the amateur photography of artificial nails sellotaped into salon windows in images reminiscent of bedroom photography. There is something about the real-feel physicality of the film behind glass that grants the artistry a level of quiet appreciation. To say, cherished in these bright collage-style of images, these nails begin to hold the same beauty as a seashell decorated sand castle washed back into the ocean. The alchemical world of artificial nails is a gluey place where the intertextual miscibility of Hello Kitty sits in close proximity to Sailor Moon’s smiling face; a world where I have seen a Dolce & Gabbana logo perfectly replicated – shanzhai style – in the black calligraphy of a few brush strokes. Despite the often-gaudy embellishments, the colourful excess of its sundry beads, there is in all of this a timelessness that surpasses what is à la mode; an aesthetic permanence that always sought to compliment the impermanence of the human hand. In its commitment to the imagination of radical alterity, popular culture, the material fusion of East and West, it is clear to me, at least, that the aesthetics of artificial nails will be an artform to be seriously reflected upon from a point in the future. Is it perhaps too presumptuous to ask whether or not the newly emergent accelerationist aesthetic finds its genesis in the hyperstitious miscibility of artificial nails where Cute/Acc becomes the aesthetic-ideological manifestation of surpassion through acceleration; the cyber gyaru philosophy of cute unto death.

Either way, like the petals that fall from Sakura trees each year, the intelligence of artificial nails remains indifferent not only to any jumped-up intellectualisation presented here but also to the material world’s relationship to entropy and abrasion; offering a casual mono no aware that none of this is destined to last forever. Beauty is cold – and it is perhaps this beautiful nonchalance to match the insouciance of the natural world which makes such nails so permanently stylish; style, it should be said, differs greatly from aesthetics in the way style is always made palpable.

In this moment, staring at the nails displayed here, I cannot help but notice the insurrectionary persistence of those fashion trends that revolve around what the protagonist – Momoko Ryugasaki – of Novala Takemoto’s Kamikaze Girls relates in a narrative that explores the contiguity between the Yanki and Lolita styles as a kind of rhizomatic fashion one could even call Popular Rococo. It is this Popular Rococo, often regulated to the weary spaces of the post-industrial landscape, which offers further evidence for the anarchic potentiality still situated on social peripheries, which is to say, a lived reality that is – in contrast to much of our culture’s trendy and insipid joylessness – shockingly colourful and fun, and as this Yukio Mishima Prize nominee rightly shows in the novella, profoundly revelatory in the way this narrative synthesises the aesthetics of history, both proletariat and bourgeoisie, without being consumed by either.

The subcultures and fashion Takemoto’s novel deals with remain arboreal to the trunk of capital, and because of this, one might expect those garments associated with these fashions to be seamlessly melted into air, which is to say, made astral in the hyperspace of virtual commerce which is, of course, the destiny of the mall locale reterritorialized alongside all of its inhabitants – both the consumer and the mall goth – into the open sky of mixed reality. The gradual formation of integral hyperreality is ultimately what succeeds the Miyazakiian decay of the post-industrial. Nevertheless, the increasingly tactile nature of virtual space often presents physicality without texture and physicality without texture is always antithetical to good fashion. Whilst fashion is often perceived as a purely visual endeavour, it is in fact Momoko’s delicate yet fastidious hands that find themselves placed somewhere at the forefront of her relationship with clothes. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the way Momoko excels in the area of embroidery; an artform which today sits against the black pills of doomscrolling and the endless dopamine drip of instant access gratification to become an emancipatory handicraft whose communities remain nestled away in the cosier peripheries of cyberspace. Momoko’s love for embroidery stands in relation to her love for clothes and whilst these clothes are designed to look pleasing to the eye what actually occurs over the course of reading Takemoto’s novel is the very much backgrounded experience of what can be felt in the bodily exhilaration of wearing a certain fashion; of feeling that intensity we call style burn hot against your skin. Likewise, whilst Momoko’s loneliness and alienation from others is made visual through the great expanse of boondocks and paddy fields that surrounds her, this protagonist’s self-imposed alienation is significant to the narrative as the deeply introspective Momoko wears these clothes only for herself to enjoy. To say, her style is not designed for other people’s pleasure with those ‘frilly-ass’ dresses worn antithetical to the sign value attributed to them since it is – as made evident through her friend Ichigo’s playful teasing – a style nobody understands.

In the end, the deeply ornate, mental filigree of Popular Rococo translates into styles that can be felt on the finger tips like the embroidery sewn into the once puckered leather of Ichigo’s biker coat. Compare Ichigo’s Yanki lifestyle to a lesser-lived subculture like the bygone remnants of something like vapourwave which not only lacked a material element but actually leaned into the astrality of the aesthetic to the point where it was made forever distant, where vapourwave charted another lifeworld made not as memory but as anemoia. I would argue that an album like 2814’s A Birth Of A New Day, whilst successfully developing the conventions of what is now known as dreampunk actually encoded into its hypnogogic soundscape the earnt physicality of city rain falling on coats, the metallic strain of trains passing by and the blue contrast of the desert sand by night, rendered all too familiar against the prefabricated conventions of a neon drenched city.

It was this earnt physicality that elevated vapourwave from a pure aesthetic into a material style. Consequently, A Birth Of A New Day was also a death knell for the genre as a whole since it is the materialisation of things in a world long made hostile to all materiality that puts the final nail in any coffin. It seems an exit from the material world may be the last act of liberation we have left, which might also explain why we’ve put a nail in ourselves too. This is to say listening to 2814’s second album – the collaboratory project of Hong Kong Express and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 – was a bodily experience that pushed vapourwave passed irony into an aesthetic we might even call style, but it is nevertheless a style born from dreamy abstraction rather than the Yanki aesthetic born from the material conditions of orange-haired delinquency.

Unable to successfully s(t)imulate the material scent of grease in the nostrils – or even finger tips against fabric – a mixed reality becomes the terminus towards an extreme point in the virtual ideal of a mind without its body. Of course, it is an extreme point we may one day enter – perhaps we already have – one in which we will know neither the day nor the hour, and yet there remains an optimism that dreams inside of me, where we are melted into astrality only to experience the joys of bodily reconstitution. It would make sense that our bodily reterritorialization into the lifeworld beyond this one would begin in our finger tips – in false nails – in those things that connect physically to the increasingly vaporous partition of the screen. Aside from some superficial comments regarding artificial nails I suppose my intention was to say absolutely nothing of its genealogy since if cute accelerationism is to become successful as a hyperstitious entity, it must remain similarly vaporous, without style or substance.

If ours is an age predicated upon all that is solid melts into air then today’s hyperreality plays the reverse uno by building us a world that facilitates only the melting of ourselves; hence why Momoko, having entered the ‘mysterious, otherworldly fragrance’ of Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, ultimately comes to describe that Daikanyama boutique as ‘such a wonderfully sweet space it could make you melt.’ Perhaps Takemoto’s Kamikaze Girls is a representative par excellence of the quintessential utopian mythology of our age since it is a narrative that concludes in the termination of both Momoko and Ichigo’s alienation from the material world; an alienation ended by way of having been entirely evaporated from it and made one with the wind.

I recall in my mind then the final sentence of that great work: ‘Feeling the wind against me I softly laid my head against Ichigo’s back, the way I might with a lover.’ And yet from a libidinal economy we enter a limerent one, where the hyperculture remains in suspended animation, caught as Momoko feels caught at the very beginning; alone in that infinity pool of paddy fields that must reflect the clouded sky as a great mirror held to the surface of this lonely earth.