Posts Tagged ‘end times’

Eric Thayer for Reuters, from Thomas Fuller and Lance Booth, “California Hasn’t Seen Fires Like This: Pictures of a State in Flames.” The New York Times. November 10, 2018.    

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Katsuhiro Otomo / Akira Club

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“Power operates most effectively not by persuading the conscious mind, but by delimiting in advance what is possible to experience. By formatting the most basic biological process of the organism in terms of temporality, Control ensures that all human experience is of—and in—time. That is why time is a prison for humans.”

CCRU Writings 1997-2003. ‘Lemurian Time War.’ Urbanomic 2k17.

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From the Akira Club Artbook

Katsuhiro Otomo

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apocalyptic lamb

Apocalypse with commentary, England ca. 1260

BL, Additional 35166, fol. 6r

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“What is the reality? Climate change is stoppable, but enough has changed that there are already consequences—Canadians have only to look to our melting Arctic ice to see them. And because of the warming oceans, there will be more consequences even if the global community cuts all carbon emissions this minute. It may be possible to reverse climate change by harvesting carbon from the air, though no one is sure where to put it afterwards, and it’s not clear that the political will exists to take any of these measures, especially given the current fate of the Paris Agreement.

Do we need to muster the political will required to take the measures still available? Absolutely. But do we also need to consider how to encounter the reality of climate change, how to feel it, how to live with feeling it? I think we do, though it scares me. T.S. Eliot wrote in the opening to “Four Quartets” that “human kind / cannot bear very much reality.” I used to think he was writing about other people, about a rule to which I was an exception, but I’m humbler now and see myself in his words. I can handle only so much.

I think I might have to learn to handle more, though. Even if I don’t volunteer, I expect to be conscripted soon. And the tiny element of envy I’ve found in myself suggests there may be something in it for me. For if it’s true that we can only deal with so much reality, being numb is its own kind of pain. This January, after covering climate change for the Guardian for five years, Michael Slezak wrote an unusually personal article, “Writing about Climate Change: My Professional Detachment Has Finally Turned to Panic.” An excerpt:

Until recently, like a sociopath might have little feelings [sic] when witnessing violence, I’ve managed to have relatively mild emotional responses to climate change… Intellectually I’ve understood the things I’ve been reporting and the inevitable disaster that is looming for much of the world’s population. But somehow, I didn’t feel the deep sense of panic or dread that is obviously appropriate when facing such a serious crisis. But in 2016, something changed.

He describes what he thinks might have precipitated the change, then writes:

But the new emotional reaction I’ve developed to climate change, while obviously unpleasant, also comes as a kind of relief.

That panic may bring relief is odd, but I get it. Becoming emotionally in touch with the reality he was reporting made Slezak whole—at least as whole as any of us might claim to be. His thinking, his body, and his emotions fell in line. Furthermore, he was in a more intimate relationship with the drought- and fire-ravaged landscapes he was reporting on, in the sense that he made himself vulnerable to them, allowed them to act on him. So he was fully engaged with the world around him. And that kind of engagement offers a measure of well-being. The catch is that in the case of climate change, the intimacy is tied to tremendous distress.

Many Westerners are in a state of denial about climate change—I include myself here. I’m not an outright denier, but I tend to fall into the category of what Jonathan Rowson calls “stealth deniers”—those who “accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change” but don’t “appear to have the commensurate feelings, sense of responsibility or agency that one might expect.” In Rowson’s study of the British population, 19.6 percent were outright deniers (what he calls “the unconvinced”) and 63.9 percent were stealth deniers, like me. I’m what Rowson terms “an emotional denier.” I, along with 47.2 percent of the stealth deniers he identified, have trouble connecting emotionally with the reality of climate change. I’m Slezak circa 2015, the one who didn’t panic. But the encounter with the starfish led me a little ways out of that numbness, and in a way it felt good, even as my body tensed up and my breath shortened.

Denial, in any case, might show that I’m on the threshold of mourning, just overwhelmed by it … which could mean that I’ve crossed into it without knowing. For although there are myriad theories about how mourning is experienced, and certainly people mourn differently, denial is often an early stage. So as a denier who glimpses grief, I may be on my way to a richer, more painful engagement with the dying world—which I both want and don’t want. I want it for the reasons I’ve given already—I want to feel integrated as a person and wholly engaged by my environment. But I also want it for moral reasons. Philosopher Simone Weil has written that “to know that this man who is hungry and thirsty really exists as much as I do—that is enough, the rest follows of itself.” Weil’s point is that actually, vividly grasping the reality of another being leads straight into a moral relationship of care. That’s one reason I want to step further out of denial. Then there’s Lesley Head’s argument that truly grieving climate change, and the selves that will be stripped from us in the process, can free up emotional energy to be invested in more creative ways. “Bearing our grief will not necessarily stave off catastrophe, but it will give us a better chance of effective action,” she writes. What exactly constitutes effective action will vary depending on the situation: it could involve a variety of actions aimed at stopping or even reversing climate change; it could also be a matter of keeping vigil and offering to our human as well as our animal, vegetable, and mineral companions what palliative care is possible now that global warming is underway.

We need to think about what vigil and palliative care might look like, for these are becoming increasingly necessary forms of action. Head notices that “we are systematically excluding the more extreme parts of future projections from our consideration, just because they are so difficult.” She suggests that some of our preparatory efforts “must go into emotional preparedness for things that may be extremely unpleasant.”

This takes me back to poetry. I’m not foolish enough to think that poetry is The Answer to climate change, or even to the question of how to live with the escalating pain it’s causing. But as a poet, I have to wonder what it has to offer, how it can help me to shift out of denial, and how it may support me as I move deeper into the work of mourning. For poetry is often a part of mourning. As Don McKay has observed, poetry is one of those things that seems expendable in a fast-paced world where we live so much on the surface. It roars to the fore at crucial moments of life where we want language to step up and acknowledge significant events and feelings—birth, death, love …

Even people who don’t otherwise read or listen to poetry will often look to it for support in the face of death: poetry is often a part of vigils, eulogies, funerals, memorials. It can support us in so many ways that I can’t hope to write about it comprehensively. But here are a couple of things it can do.

It can help with denial by making loss feel real. Jorie Graham has said that in America, a coup has been enacted “upon the reality status of events and of people and therefore on nature itself.” “The state of emergency,” she says, “is this: this not-even-feeling-it-is-there, the not-even-feeling-others-are-real.””

– Sue Sinclair, “AS THE WORLD ENDS, HAS THE TIME FOR GRIEVING ARRIVED?” Brick Magazine. Winter 2018, #100. Via Lithub.

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“In Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climate Regime, Bruno Latour aims to reintroduce us to our own planet. The Earth emerges as a bizarre and unfamiliar presence, dimly glimpsed but exerting a colossal and uncertain pressure on all our actions. Though its unpredictable effects promise no meaning or redemption, this alien power forces our attention to the immediacy of terrestrial life.

Latour’s work has set the pace for science and technology studies since his ethnographies of laboratories in the 1980s and 90s; since We Have Never Been Modern, he has upended received wisdom about the bond between science and progress, challenged academic habits of critique, and inspired radical approaches to objects and ontologies across the social sciences and humanities. The concern for ecology that runs throughout these works takes center stage in these much-awaited lectures, pushed forward by what Isabelle Stengers calls the “intrusion of Gaia”—the catastrophic fits of an Earth whose tolerance has been exceeded.

Human-caused climate change reawakens an apocalyptic sensibility, altering everything we do, think, and feel, whether we acknowledge it or not. “We have become the people who could have acted thirty or forty years ago – and did nothing, or far too little.” Political cataclysms are as much part of this “new climate regime” as hurricanes and wildfires: after the US election, Latour described the “innovation” of Donald Trump as “a mad dash for maximum profit while abandoning the rest of the world to its fate.” Trump would be the first truly ecologically-oriented president, through pure negativity: “For the first time, climate change denial is determining all political decisions.”

What would it take to shake us out of our denial, delusional hope, or numb passivity—all these ways in which “ecology is making us crazy”? We need new senses and new tools for thought, Latour contends. Not just more carefully verified observations and arguments, but “plays, exhibitions, art forms, poetry, and maybe also rituals” that can sensitize us to the feedback loops between our smallest actions and their consequences near and far. “Gaia” is one such conceptual experiment.

The Greek goddess of the Earth, the mother of the Titans, Gaia was reclaimed by the chemist James Lovelock and biologist Lynn Margulis to describe the earth’s unique status as a symbiotic system, where living things co-evolve with their geological and atmospheric conditions. Despite its New Age echoes, Latour seeks to dispel any cozy reassurance: the first of the Gods to appear after Chaos, Gaia was a vicious troublemaker, giving her son Cronos the stone sickle he used to castrate his father Uranus. Likewise, in his reading of Lovelock and Margulis, Latour guillotines any idea of a harmonizing designer, thermostat, or clockmaker overseeing the feedback loops through which organisms and environments alter each other. Even if relatively stable equilibria hold sway at times, each entity of the planet, down to the outer shell of its molten core, acts with and on the others; actor and context, figure and ground are constantly reversing their hierarchies.

After centuries of stony sleep, this altered assemblage demands to be heard and seen. Latour does all he can to keep Gaia weird—to define it such that it always escapes definition. “Facing Gaia” means “instituting” and “inaugurating” this elusive entity, establishing its place in our affairs. Yet even as we roll out the red carpet we realize, as in a tale of gothic horror, that the visitor is already in the house: it’s the carpet itself, the floor, the walls, and the foundations, and has taken over our bodies and minds.

Sketching Gaia’s portrait, Latour’s strongest lines are erasures; he emphasizes what Gaia is not. Against the habit of Western metaphysics to try to master the cosmos by gathering it into a sphere, Gaia is not a totality, whole, globe, system, container, or organism. Most crucially, it is not the “Nature” of science: dead matter ruled by mechanical laws. In the age of the Anthropocene, the “external” nature we confront in rising temperatures, extinctions, salinization, and erosion is partially the result of human industries, policies, and ideologies. We walk a Möbius strip in which “everything is looking at us,” where “we are so mixed up with [Nature] that it has become internal, human, all too human, provisional perhaps, in any case sensitive to everything we do.”

Even Latour’s most faithful readers may need to squint to bring Gaia’s positive features into focus—for example, his puzzling refrain that Gaia is the first “finally secular” figure of nature. Gaia was a goddess, after all, and Latour has repeatedly highlighted resonances between religion and science. Facing Gaia began as the 2013 Gifford Lectures on “natural theology,” launched in the 1890s to reconcile Christianity with post-Darwinian science. He earlier argued that science and religion both depend on “factishes”—material, human-made objects and the powers seen to animate them, which, through proper ritual administration in laboratories or shrines, set parameters for the actions of their adepts. Latour has also acknowledged the influence of Catholic essayist Charles Péguy: just as the interpreter of religious texts must restate, update, and transform them to allow their message to endure, scientists speak reliably about their objects only by translating them through fragile, constantly-maintained chains of instruments and inscriptions.

If the “flat ontology” of his earlier Actor-Network Theory blurred the worlds of science, religion, and politics—treating all entities as networks of humans and nonhumans—he is now keen to establish their limits. Yet Latour’s Gaia does not herald a social order safely “disembedded” from the cosmos in Charles Taylor’s sense of “secular.” Gaia is “secular” because it compels us to abandon the sub specie aeternitatis perspective from which moderns have considered the universe as a whole.

To prepare his project to “re-set modernity,” Latour sketches the emergence of its supreme authority, “Nature.” According to Egyptologist Jan Assmann, in ancient polytheistic empires a “moderate relativism” allowed for conciliatory translations between divinities: “our Ra” is “your Apollo,” more or less. With the appearance of Mediterranean monotheisms and their jealous god(s), religion became “counter-religion”: an ever-vigilant struggle to purify the true faith and denounce false idols. In the West, this zeal eventually morphed into a rage against all idolatry and superstition, until science became a further “counter-religion” against religion itself, with “Nature” the new standard of truth. The 17th century’s experimental science arose as a solution to the wars of religion, shuffling relations among Nature, politics, and God. Matter was defined as dead and inert, while humans were granted all freedom of action, thought, and will (at least until the human sciences detected the “mechanisms” of economics, social structure, ideology, and the unconscious). God was chased from the earthly scene to a heavenly (or imaginary) world beyond; both creationists and militant atheists now share the view of Nature as a lifeless machine.

For decades, Latour has been chopping away at this resilient but deceptive “distribution of agency”—his general term for the order that every collective, including ours, establishes to divide up “powers, aptitudes, and capacities, among things, gods, humans and classes.” He now takes a positive and constructive approach. His previous book aimed to reinstitute modern values and ontologies—what the West holds dear—on a more realistic, pluralist basis. Clearing away the phony touchstone of scientific “Nature”—the unitary truth supposed to lurk beneath the multiplicity of partial and contradictory interpretations—allows for a “redistribution of agency” which more closely follows the contours of our actual practices.”

– John Tresch, “We Have Never Known Mother Earth.Public Books, December 1, 2017.

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