So this discussion on apocalyptic culture continues. The previous posts reference contributions by Alec Soth, Jodi Dean, Poetix, K-Punk, Larval Subjects and Rough Theory. (These are great blogs – read them!)
To briefly summarize, here are the main observations from the previous posts:
1. Peter Schjeldahl: The present widespread disarray and morbidity of the arts in Western civilization represent, it occurs to me, a long-term toxic effect of the atom-bomb terror of the last three decades…Most insidious of the terror’s by-products is what I’ll call the no-future effect. Conditioned to living on the eve of doomsday, we have lost the ability to conceive of a future stretching farther than our own most distant personal goals or responsibilities.I'd like to look a recent follow up on the previous posts by K-Punk. - After the end, again.
2. Jodi Dean: what if the world has already ended and we are persisting in its degrading memory? I need the first point in order to account for the persistence that is in the process of fading and dissolving. So we persist, but the distinctions are fading, and with it, the people we have been, the lives we have led. At any rate, the incompleteness of the theory, its failures, also indicate that it's right (in the grand tradition of Marxism and psychoanalysis, the disproof is the greatest proof): the failures indicate the process of dissolution in which we are caught. Clarity is lost, impossible now that the world has ended and we are but drifting components of its dwindling memory
3. Poetix(Dominic): Socialism or Barbarism: the slogan presents itself as if it were describing a moment of decision, a fork in the road. The decision cannot be deferred any longer, the slogan insists: it must be taken immediately. But nothing seems easier to believe than that there is now no choice: barbarism is what is, to an already frightening and intensifying degree, and it is even more what is to come. We have gone too far down that road, impelled along it by all that seems most intransigent, most unalterable, about our “nature” or our “condition”. Once it seems that the moment has passed when things might have turned out otherwise, does not the slogan lose its cogency? ...
The conventional form of the urgent call to action, in the face of some existential menace, is “no future, unless…”.
4. K-Punk: If it is increasingly difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism, that is because the world has already ended. In this condition of mors ontologica, the world goes on, but nothing new can ever happen; what remains is a mechanical permutation through options that have already been fixed…The time to act was in the past; the damage is done; all we can do is await consequences which can no longer be averted...
5. Larval Subjects(Sinthome): considers collective apocalyptic fantasies: They represent clothed or disguised utopian longings for a different order of social relations, such that this alternative order would only become possible were all of society to collapse. That is, could not the omnipresence of apocalyptic fantasies in American culture be read as an indication that somehow we have "given way on our desire" or betrayed our desire at a fundamental social level? That is, these visions simultaneously allow us to satisfy our aggressive animosity towards existing social relations, while imagining an alternative (inevitably we always triumph in these scenerios, even if reduced to fundamentally primative living conditions... a fantasy in itself), while also not directly acknowledging our discontent with the conditions of capital (it is almost always some outside that destroys the system, not direct militant engagement).
6. Rough Theory(N Pepperell): presents Adorno’s considerations on socialization-All of these things, Adorno suggests, encourage susceptibility to forms of mass mobilisation that are directed specifically against the realisation of potentials for transformation, and that tap into impulses to destroy others (particularly members of vulnerable minorities whose social exclusion can be misrecognised as unmerited freedom from hated social constraints) as well as desires for self-destruction.
Adorno’s account thus suggests that widespread desires for destruction or self-destruction might be “typical” - particularly in moments when individual powerlessness comes to be experienced as particularly acute.
He asserts that there is a difference between the UK and US popular unconscious when it comes to apocalyptic dread (I think we can consider apocalyptic fetish as a parallel to that dread). K-Punk cites the Cold War as the truly apocalyptic era where the fear of nuclear destruction was a daily ritual of anxiety and nightly dreams of annihilation.
Jodi is right that there is no British equivalent to the religious apocalypticism that features so prominently in American cultural life but this is less apocalyptic dread than apocalyptic ecstasy, a fevered anticipation of the Rapture.The kind of apocalyptic dread I am referring to was in any case far too pervasive to be reduced to particular cultural artefacts; nor was it confined to religious groups. There were, of course, innumerable films, novels and songs which explicitly dealt with apocalypse of one kind or another, but the dread was so widespread, so deep-rooted, that it amounted to a psychic climate. Jeff Nuttall's indispensable Bomb Culture went so far as to claim that the impulse behind postwar popular culture in its entirety was the virtual presence of nuclear war.K-punk rightly observes that such ‘end time’ dread was pervasive background noise – not unlike what Schjedahl observed in 1978. However, for him this dread is no longer present now in the UK though assumingly still alive in the US.
Certainly, Sinthome's remarks - in particular, his claim that 'apocalyptic fantasies' are 'omnipresent' in American culture - suggest that apocalypse has retained its hold on the American unconscious. The key passage in Sinthome's post is the following, where, in an echo of similar claims by Fredric Jameson, he makes the case that apocalyptic fantasies mask disavowed utopian impulses:
[C]ould not the omnipresence of apocalyptic fantasies in American culture be read as an indication that somehow we have "given way on our desire" or betrayed our desire at a fundamental social level? That is, these visions simultaneously allow us to satisfy our aggressive animosity towards existing social relations, while imagining an alternative (inevitably we always triumph in these scenerios, even if reduced to fundamentally primative living conditions... a fantasy in itself), while also not directly acknowledging our discontent with the conditions of capital (it is almost always some outside that destroys the system, not direct militant engagement). - Frederic Jameson
Continuing, he mentions that alongside Larval Subject’s 'hope that apocalyptic fantasies manifest a desire for something other than their explicit content', N Pepperell at Rough Theory suggests that 'we can understand Adorno’s work as an attempt to reflect seriously ... on the possibility that certain mass movements might genuinely desire to achieve what their fantasies express: destruction and death.' He wonders if the ‘fantasies’ mentioned by Larval Subjects are more aptly called ‘survivalist’ fantasies as the by product of a stripped down ‘self’ – a ‘minimal self’ resultant of continuing waves of catastrophe and threat.
I want to reflect back for a second on some of the links earlier and the type of environment imagined in Children of Men. I have pointed to Guantanamo, Corrections Corp. of America as well as the timely conceptual/political art of the zone-interdite project. In accordance with these notations on the budding exclusion and isolation zones – non-places purposed for containment and control - Nick Turse via Tom Dispatch.com writes of the future envisioned by the Pentagon.
Baghdad 2025: The Pentagon Solution to a Planet of Slums outlines the following philosophy and futures strategies of the US military.
For years now, U.S. war planners have believed that guerrilla warfare is the future - not against Guevarist focos in the countryside of some recalcitrant, possibly-oil-rich land, but in growing urban "jungles" in the vast slum cities that increasingly dot the planet. For years now, U.S. war planners have believed that guerrilla warfare is the future - not against Guevarist focos in the countryside of some recalcitrant, possibly-oil-rich land, but in growing urban "jungles" in the vast slum cities that increasingly dot the planet.The report is from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA sees the following:
the Pentagon's best minds have dared to venture where most United Nations, World Bank or State Department types fear to go ... [T]hey now assert that the 'feral, failed cities' of the Third World - especially their slum outskirts - will be the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century." Pentagon war-fighting doctrine, he notes, "is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world war of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor."
In fact, this past October the U.S. Army issued its latest "urban operations" manual. "Given the global population trends and the likely strategies and tactics of future threats," it declares, "Army forces will likely conduct operations in, around, and over urban areas - not as a matter of fate, but as a deliberate choice linked to national security objectives and strategy, and at a time, place, and method of the commander's choosing." Global economic deprivation and poor housing, the hallmarks of the urban slum, are, the manual asserts, what makes "urban areas potential sources of unrest" and thus, "[i]ncreases the likelihood of the Army's involvement in stability operations." And "idle" urban youth (long a target of security forces in the U.S. homeland), loosed in the future slum city from the "traditional social controls" of "village elders and clan leaders" and prey to manipulation by "nonstate actors" draw particular concern from the manual's authors.It’s well worth the reading the whole as it mentions rumerous contractors building wildly futuristic weapons and intelligence systems that will transform life as we know it. Think Terminator, Robocop, Blade Runner etc. etc. The desire is to shape and control conflict as it unfolds.
As alarming as these plans and omnipotent gadgets are, what is terrifying is the FEAR and apocalyptism that is at the heart of these multi- $billion dollar R&D initiatives. That fear is the sending of troops into an enemy-friendly urban mega-slum which punctuates a future vision of international periphery zones for the elite and the scorned. The metropolis is the future battle field. As Nick Turse points out there is a dark irony at play here. Ever since the U.S. high command moved into its self-described virtual “city” – the Pentagon has had a distinct inability to decisively beat anyone save its weakest enemy. Though able to cause massive casualties and
historical destruction, the war machine has proven rather unremarkable in achieving its goals.
Despite this reality-
Now, the Pentagon has decided to prepare for a fight with a restless, oppressed population of slum-dwellers one billion strong and growing at an estimated rate of 25 million people per year. To take on even lone outposts in this multitude - like any of the 400 cities of over 1 million people that exist today or the 150 more estimated to be in existence by 2015 - is a fool's errand, a recipe for both carnage and quagmire.These statistics should give us all great pause. I'll close this installment with what Larval Subjects has to say by way of Lacan.
For Lacan, of course, the real must not be confused with reality. Where reality is understood as a combination of the symbolic and the imaginary characterizing the familiarity of our everyday lifeworld, the real is to be properly understood as the impossible or those formal deadlocks that haunt the symbolic and prevent its closure
painting: Franz Johnston