“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The catastrophe has already occurred

Chris Schaberg (see comments) has commented on post-apocalyptic movies (Wall•E, The Day After Tomorrow), and what they tell us about our attitude towards the ecological era we're in.

I believe that one thing we have to get used to is that the ecological catastrophe has already occurred.

The extent to which post-apocalyptic fantasies push the “catastrophe point” forwards into the future is directly proportional to how much we want to ward off the fact that it has already happened.

One way we can tell it has happened is that it's now impossible to measure certain things. Say you have some kind of self-interest theory (suppose you modify it to include lots of others like family members, friends, your social circle etc.). How is your self-interest theory going to deal with substances such as plutonium, which have consequences that far outlast you, your circle (however wide), even perhaps your species?

Global warming is the result of a few hundred years of certain processes occurring, but its effects may last for thousands of years.


Unknown said...

I came here following your comment on my blog, and am definitely intrigued about your line of thought. I'll have to read your book now (which I have only seen the title of, on Amazon, I think), as it promises some fodder for my reconciliation ecology class! And I look forward to reading more of your thoughts as you share them here whilst working on your new book.

In my class, I dwell a fair bit on our species' troubled relationship with our world, growing (in no small part) out of our conception of Nature as something "out there". I like the idea of starting with the position that "the catastrophe has already occurred" - it'll be interesting to see how the students respond.

As for the current run of environmental-apocalyptic cinema, I've been sitting on a half-baked blog post on the subject for some time now. Wall*E and your blog have stoked the fire, so I might actually post it soon!

Timothy Morton said...

That's excellent, Madhu. Would you like me to send you a copy of the book? I'd be glad to.

I'm looking forward to seeing your post on Wall•E—the Peter Gabriel at the end made me feel very sentimental!

Unknown said...

O, I would love to have a copy, if you can spare one. I was going to see if your publisher might send me an exam copy - that's one perk of academia I do exercise as much as I can! But if you can spare a copy, that would be lovely. I can send you my mailing address via email.

BTW, did you see my latest post, about the curious parallel between two eminent Americans?

jeron said...

the slate did a great kritik of this movie: http://www.slate.com/id/2195126/?GT1=38001

Anthony Lioi said...

Congratulations on the book and the blog.

Speaking of catastrophes that have already happened, I was especially happy to see you touch on the problem of grief in your discussion of dark ecology. "Dark ecology is a melancholic ethics," you say (186). I think you are quite right that we need to deal with the grief caused by the realization that we, not "they," caused the environmental crisis. But grief and melancholy are not exactly the same thing, though they may be intertwined. Grief after a catastrophe is a response that even constitutionally cheerful people may have; melancholy is more of a long-lasting mood or disposition. As you point out, thinkers like Joanna Macy have developed (in her case, Buddhist) methods for moving through ecological grief, but it is unclear whether truly melancholic people ever leave melancholy behind. (A fascinating commentary on this problem is Andrew Solomon's book, THE NOONDAY DEMON.)

So the issue for dark ecology as a melacholic ethics, I think, is the issue of agency. If dark ecology recognizes negative agency (we made the mess), how can its melancholia allow for a positive agency (now we clean the mess up)? The melancholic is in danger of becoming the mirror-image of the beautiful soul, too mired in the pleasure of sadness to do anything. I would really like to hear your thoughts on this problem.


Anthony Lioi

Mike Arnzen said...

Great post. I love this line:

"The extent to which post-apocalyptic fantasies push the 'catastrophe point' forwards into the future is directly proportional to how much we want to ward off the fact that it has already happened."

In other words, the more the semes and codes of "fantasy" are evident, the more evident the "disavowal" of their grounding in present desire/fear. Brilliant.

I definitely want to read your book. Thanks for dropping by The Popular Uncanny site, too!
-- Mike Arnzen, http://www.gorelets.com

Unknown said...

Hi Timothy,

In case you haven't noticed yet - I've included this post of yours in the Oekologie blog carnival, going on over at Reconciliation Ecology this week. I hope you don't mind - and do come for a stroll through the carnival when you have a moment or two!