Murmurations—“Climate Change” and the Defacement of Theory
Warnings regarding the planet earth’s imminent depletion of reserves or “life as we know it” arrive today more as routine tweets than events that might give us pause, particularly as the current wars over global “sovereign debt” and economic “crises” swamp attention. The intensifying specter of megadebt—at a time of “peak everything” (peak water, peak oil, peak humans)—dumped into a future despoiled of reserves and earning capacity has a specific relation to this white-out—the “economical” and “ecological” tandem shifts all attention to the first term (or first “eco”). In a post-global present consolidating what is routinely remarked as a neo-feudal order, the titanic shift of hyperwealth to the corporatist few (the so-called 1 %) sets the stage for a shift to control societies anticipating social disruption and the implications of “Occupy” style eruptions—concerning which the U.S. congress hastily passed new unconstitutional rules to apprehend citizens or take down websites. The Ponzi scheme logics of twenty-first century earthscapes portray an array of time-bubbles, catastrophic deferrals, telecratic capture, and a voracious present that seems to practice a sort of tempophagy on itself corresponding with its structural premise of hyper-consumption and perpetual “growth. The supposed urgencies of threatened economic and monetary “collapse” occlude and defer any attention to the imperatives of the biosphere, but this apparent pause or deferral of attention covers over an irreversible mutation. A new phase of unsustainability appears in which a faux status quo ante appears to will to sustain itself as long as possible and at whatever cost; the event of the twenty-first century is that there will be no event, that no crisis will disturb the expansion of consumption beyond all supposed limits or peaks. In such an environment other materialities emerge, reference systems default, and the legacies of anthropo-narcissm go into overdrive in mechanical ways. Supposedly advanced or post-theory theory is no exception—claiming on the one hand ever more verdant comings together of redemptive communities, and discretely restoring many phenomenological tropes that 20th century thought had displaced. This has been characterized as an unfolding eco-eco disaster—a complex at once economic and ecological.  The logics of the double oikos appear, today, caught in a self-feeding default.
The present volume, in diverse ways, reclaims a certain violence that has seemed occluded or anaesthetized (it is a “present,” after all, palpably beyond “tipping points” yet shy of their fully arrived implications—hence the pop proliferation of “zombie” metaphors: zombie banks, zombie politics, zombie “theory”). It departs from a problem inherent in the “eco” as a metaphoric complex, that of the home (oikos), and the suicidal fashion in which this supposed proper ground recuperates itself from a non-existent position. The figure of an ecology that is ours and that must be saved precludes us from confronting the displacement and dispossession which conditions all production, including the production of homelands. Memory regimes have insistently, silently and anonymously prolonged and defended the construct of “homeland security” (both in its political sense, and in the epistemological sense of being secure in our modes of cognition), but these systems of security have in fact accelerated the vortices of ecocatastrophic imaginaries. This leads to what can be called the zone of telemorphosis: that is, how and whether conceptual practices and cognitive rituals, including those of critical theory, have participated in the production of these horizons, and what, today, breaks with that.
If a double logic of eco-eco disaster overlaps with the epoch in deep time geologists now refer to as the “anthropocene,” what critical re-orientations, today, contest what has been characterized as a collective blind or psychotic foreclosure? Nor can one place the blame at the feet alone of an accidental and evil ‘1%’ of corporate culture alone, since an old style revolutionary model does not emerge from this exitless network of systems. More interesting is the way that ‘theory’, with its nostalgic agendas for a properly political world of genuine praxis or feeling has been complicit in its fashion. How might one read the implicit, unseen collaboration that critical agendas coming out of twentieth century master-texts unwittingly maintained with the accelerated trajectories in question? The mesmerizing fixation with cultural histories, the ethics of “others,” the enhancement of subjectivities, “human rights” and institutions of power not only partook of this occlusion but ‘we theorists’ have deferred addressing biospheric collapse, mass extinction events, or the implications of resource wars and “population” culling. It is our sense of justified propriety—our defense of cultures, affects, bodies and others—that allows us to remain secure in our homeland, unaware of all the ruses that maintain that spurious home.
The rapacious present places the hidden metaphoric levers of the eco or oikos in an unsustainable exponential curve, compounding megadebt upon itself, and consuming futures in what has been portrayed as a sort of psychotic trance—what Hillis Miller calls, in this volume, a suicidal “auto-co-immunity” track.  Yet the “Sovereign debt crisis” corresponds to a credibility crisis as well. The latter applies not only to the political classes of the post-democratic klepto-telecracies of the West but seems to taint the critical concepts, agendas, and terms received from twentieth-century itineraries that accompanied the last decades and that persist as currency. Far from opening beyond the propriety of the oikos theories of affect, living labor and critical legacies have doubled down on their investments, created guilds as reluctant as Wall St. to give up cognitive capital. All the while there is attention paid to ‘saving’ the humanities or a critical industry that might be extended for a while longer (as if with “sovereignty” itself). Bruno Latour  presumes to call this recent and ongoing episode the “Modernist parenthesis” of thought. In his conjecture, the very pre-occupation with human on human histories, culturalism, archivism, and the institutions of power were complicit with a larger blind that, in his view, the ecological crisis belatedly discloses. 
At the moment of writing it is common to point to the 2011 “occupy” movement, viral and cloud-like, as the Bartlebyesque counter to a totalization of the systems of this control. Bartleby has become the figure for a rejection of end-fixated production. Were one able to speak of an occupy movement applied to critical concepts and twentieth century derived idioms one might imagine a call to occupy critical theory and conceptual networks—but with what interruption of received programs (“Sovereign debt”), what alternative materialities, what purported “ethics” involving commodified futures (and the structure of debt), what mnemotechnics, and with resistance to what power, if it is the oikos itself, the metaphoric chimera and its capture of late anthropocene imaginaries that is at issue? This is one of the implications of what this volume terms telemorphosis, the intricacy by which referential regimes, memory, and reading, participate in these twenty-first century disclosures. The occupy motif, at the moment, sets itself against a totalization or experience of foreclosure—political, mediacratic, financial, cognitive. Various strategies appearing in this volume involve what could equally be called a disoccupy logic or meme.
Such a logic of disoccupation assumes that the domain in question is already saturated, occupied in the militarist sense by a program that, unwittingly, persists in the acceleration of destruction and takeover. Critical thought of recent decades would have walked hand in hand with the current foreclosures. The explication of ecocatastrophic logics, accordingly, are not found in Foucault nor, surprisingly, Derrida. Timothy Morton’s Ecology without Nature is one such effort at disoccupation—seeking to void the two terms of the title, and in the process disrupt the “revised organicisms” of contemporary critical schools which, he argues, have managed to lapse into sophisticated pre-critical modes not unrelated to a more general inertia.
The meme of disoccupation resonates, for instance, with what Robert Markley in this volume proposes as a practice of “disidentification,” and is implied by Timothy Clark’s tracking of a “derangement of scale” in the perpetual cognitive disjunctures that come up against the ecocatastrophic present. One would disoccupy the figure of subjectivity, refusing not only the comforting commodifications of “the other” in cultural theory, but also the later moral appeals to other redemptive beings, such as the animal (as Joanna Zylinska argues with regard to post-humanism and its “animal studies”). What might be disoccupied would be the metaphorics of the home, even where the latter would sustain itself today in cherished terms like trauma, affect, alterity, embodiment, or even culture.
Yet a refusal of supposed redemptive ‘outsides’ to capitalism does not lead to a place of critical purity beyond the implied moralism of ‘occupy’ but the return of, and orientation to, a violence before which no model of sovereignty can be sustained.
To imagine that one might disoccupy by refusing all the supposed redemptive ‘outsides’ to capitalism is not to find a place of critical purity beyond the moralism of ‘occupy.’ Occupation is never simply takeover and appropriation, but always involves destruction of what it claims. The viral migration of the “occupy” motif involves a premise of disoccupation covertly. In the present volume this takes different forms. If one is now beyond tipping points in a zone of irreversibility, what corresponds to this as a critical injunction? Catherine Malabou sets aside the entire way the figure of trauma and the “always already” has organized time. Claire Colebrook affirms, rather than accepting as tragic, extinction as a point of departure for thought, which can be used to work against the organicist ideologies of the present (such as sexual difference). Martin McQuillan shifts the referential spectrum of discourse to “other materialities” in the hypothesis of a post-carbon thought, while Robert Markley tracks the influx of geological times that displace human narrative matrices. Bernard Stiegler voids the biopolitical model, which he sees as exceeded by “the third limit of Capitalism” (when it impinges on the biosphere). From that point of excess he strategizes a counter-stroke to the capture of attention by telecratic circuits, initiating a noopolitics. Joana Zylinska disoccupies, to continue this motif, the covert model of soft “otherness” by which animal studies has invented itself as an anthropo-colonianism. Like post-humanism generally, Zylinska argues, animal studies sustains its subjectal hegemonies. Hillis Miller locates a source for the ecocatastrophic imaginary in the blind insistence of “organicist” models of reading that sustain the comforts of the oikos. Against this hermeneutics of security Miller posits an “ecotechnics” that is at once machinal and linguistically based (where language is not communicative, but literal and inscriptive in a manner exemplified by Kafka’s Odradek). Justin Read displaces any biopolitical model, again, by relinquishing trauma, the oikos, survival and interiorities of any manner, instead describing the circulation of data (or the “unicity”) from which the only remaining political gesture would be oriented to the ecocatrastrophic. Jason Groves shifts the referential screen from, again, a human-centered index to the viral textualism of (alien) species invasion, the global rewriting of bio-geographies. Mike Hill transitions to the alteration of atmospherics under the imaginary of climate war technologies in a new horizon of invisible wars (and wars on visibility), which today include not only nanotechnologies but also the “autogenic” turning of wars without discrete (national) enemies into suicidal rages against the “homeland”—a sort of, again, auto-occupation that is accelerating.
If it is possible to note that theory’s retrieval of human and animal otherness against the horrors of capitalism is akin to political deferrals of the future for the sake of saving the present, then we might ask what might open the reactive self-bound logics beyond homeland security? What has been absent to date is any shared or possible climate change imaginary—or a critical matrix. The problem is that the other materialities that constitute the forces of climate change would pulverize whatever informs “imaginaries” in general, which have always been tropological systems. When a recent critical query asks, for example, how to define “a political subject of climate change” the authors focus on how the “climate crisis shapes particular subjectivities,” properly putting any rhetoric of “crisis” itself to the side as appropriable. The problem lies in the premise of defining a “political subject” or subjectivities to begin with: “Unsurprisingly, much of the current discourse on climate change oscillates between these two poles: most dramatically, between imminent catastrophe and the prospect of renewal; between unimaginable humanitarian disaster and the promise of a green-tech revolution. As such the climate crisis regularly calls forth regimes of risk” [Dibley and Neilson 2010: 144]. This Janus-faced algorithm, the “political subject of climate change” (147), arrives as a form of cognitive disjuncture: “these two images… are alternative figures of the subjectivity of ecological crisis. They are complimentary… . something like a dialectical image of the subjectivity of climate change” (146). On the one hand, this theoretical intervention is typical of the cognitive reflex toward pre-emption of the worst in arguments focused on mitigation, on sustainability, and on various “environmental” agendas—despite none of these answering to what science would demand. Sustainability has been angled to “sustain” the level of comfort and acquisition that the economy of “growth” demands. On the other hand, there is a reflex of occlusion. This straining for a “subjectivity” that would account for a political feature of this new landscape comes up with two mutually canceling algorithms: a desperate sense of imminent crisis and end, alongside a hope of something as lulling as ‘subjectivity’. As a number of essays in the volume imply, one might proceed otherwise: depart or begin from a subject without subjectivity (Catherine Malabou), or an exteriority without interior (Justin Read).
The aporia of an era of climate change are structurally different from those that devolved on the torsions of Western mestphysics. They are not the aporia explored by Derrida around the figure of hospitality, taken as an endless refolding that keeps in place, while exposing, a perpetuated and lingering logics that defers the inhospitable. (One mode of deconstruction as solicitation involves shaking the house or structure within which one finds oneself, and this circuit might itself be disturbed by a refusal to occupy.) As Masao Myoshi  first suggested, the logics of extinction compromise the aims of an emancipatory future along with all else. Any project of “formal democracy” runs up not only against the twenty-first century post-democratic telecracies that render that episode of 90’s thought transparently inscribed in the neo-liberal fantasy (or propaganda) it would appropriate back for the then bruised “Left.” But it also faces the transparency by which market democracy not only appears a Potemkin figure itself but, in fact, guarantees planetary ruin by the demographic requirements of cars alone for any emerging middle class of India and China (as Arundhati Roy argues).  Any focus on global population control runs up against feminist progressivism [Hedges 2009; Hartman 2009]; post-colonial narratives that would restoratively mime the promise of 90’s neo-liberalism of a world of market democracy would require three planets of resource materiel to allow dispossessed others to reach our levels of prosperity. The profound 90’s investment in the “otherness of the other,” an other who would be recognized, communed with, raised into the polis, and colonized, appears today as a stubborn archaism and, perhaps, as an epochal error, that maintained the sovereign trace of subjective mastery. It would seem that both metaphysics and its deconstruction jointly participated in what is now disclosing itself as the “anthropocene”—an epoch of self-affirmation into which Enlightenment ideologemes have played, as Dipesh Chakrabarty analyzes in the term “freedom.”  The impasse between today’s spellbound and rapacious present and supposed future generations, the rupture of any imagined moral contract to or recognition of same, has been in circulation for a while.
The present volume of essays focuses on this under-examined question: how do mnemotechics, conceptual regimes, and reading—a certain unbounded textualization that exceeds any determination of writing—participate in or accelerate the mutations that extend, today, from financial systems to the biosphere? The volume gives this a name, telemorphosis.
There is a curious parallel between the total occlusion of ecocatastrophic logic during the present economic “crisis” and the ways “post theory” criticism recirculates today. Some of this seems transparent. What names itself the post-human tends to re-secure a “humanism” that was never there to begin with. If the Übermensch once gestured to a recognition of the human species as profoundly life-denying, its nervous programs and tribal identities to be exceeded, the current post-humanism affirms the future-closing possibility that ‘we’ might extend our lives without limit. It has shifted from an early Nietzschean premise—exceeding anthropo-narcissism—to Kurzweil’s projection to make the organism synbiotic and amortal. The post-human is man who has escaped organic limits, thus prolonging a certain present (or individual life) indefinitely: a capitalization of duration. In addition to this extension of bodily life, ‘high’ theory has recreated global man: Hardt and Negri’s premise of a “multitude” renovates Catholic male imaginaries; systems theorists oscillate within the most organicist of tropes (mother Gaia); “new media” theorists return to phenomenological premises from the very logics that would suspend such; and figures of embodiments circulate routinely.There is a parallel, here, to the efforts to prop up, again and again, the “Wall St.” banks by a perpetually deferred megadebt leveraged against disappearing resources.
But some examples of this rich prehistory and its default investments to a suddenly reset referential horizon:
Judith Butler’s Precarious Life  redressed the defaced “other” of the terrorist by appealing to the category of a forbidden grieving. She relies not only on a model of mourning, but also of affirming that which is lost and dehumanized in selective grieving. The essay in question is marked by its occasion, which is a defense of humanistic studies today as a discipline that shapes a higher enlightenment of alterity—an ethical defense in an academic environment in which the utility of such fields is under budgetary review. The matter of ethics calls forth Levinas and the topos of face. Butler deploys these figures to ask whether “the humanities have lost their moral authority” in a post-“9/11” rhetorical horizon. In a manner akin to the rhetorical intent of the Bush “war on terror” (supposedly horizonless in time and geography, yet already retired and replaced with the economic “crisis”), Butler goes for the bait of interrogating the terrorist face or otherness:
The essay is interested in the divide across which the human is constructed: “I am referring not only to humans not regarded as humans, and thus to a restrictive conception of the human that is based upon their exclusion” (128). And here is precisely a negotiated back-loop to a more humane order: “If the humanities has a future as cultural criticism, and cultural criticism has a task at the present moment, it is no doubt to return us to the human where we do not expect to find it, in its frailty and at the limits of its capacity to make sense” (151). But it may be that the humanities does not have a future (in this way). The commodity of “cultural criticism” offers itself incoherently—and does so with the premise that its ethical value lies in a reconciliation of peaceable others. Yet, it is still and precisely the artificed image of a human “other” with whom “we” would empathically commune that involves a foreclosure in the very way the “social” or “we” has been fashioned. Is not the premise of mourning itself the problem?
If, on the one hand, a residual humanism cannot stop re-inscribing itself in a familial oikos or boundedness, it would be neither helpful nor accurate to reject all theory with some accusation of humanist recidivism. The point, rather, is that it was never there to begin with in the stabilizing memes appealed to. There have always been counter-gestures towards inhuman and multi-scalar logics beyond the face, even if these attempts to escape anthropocentrism are met by simultaneous resistance. An instance would be the coupling of Braudel with Deleuzian dynamism and systems theory in Manuel De Landa’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. Despite being published in 1997, this magisterial study has no awareness at its closing of the horizons of ecocatastrophe or climate change. De Landa refers to organic and non-organic forms of shifting “bio-mass” that pass between terrestrial organizations. The writing insistently allows no anthropocentric perspective to emerge in tracking three parallel histories of the “Geological,” the “Biological,” and the “Linguistic.” Despite addressing what it calls a comparative socio-linguistics, it nevertheless has no conception of mnemonics or rhetorical and perceptual regimes participating in or shaping the feedback loops. It leaves out, as does Butler’s retention of Levinasian “others” for the amelioration of social recognition, what is here termed telemorphosis:
At the far end of where “cultural studies” began, De Landa abandons the narrative of “capitalism” altogether, which now has no discrete outside or discrete other: “What use is there in making this move, if we are to crown the whole exercise with a return to the great master concept, the great homogenization involved in the notion of a ‘capitalist system’?” (267). De Landa identifies with an agency that shapes itself through “catalytic loops” and lateral migrations—miming a limit of systems theory and its descriptive capture by organicist metaphors: “much as a given material may solidify in alternative ways (as ice or snowflakes, as crystal or glass), so humanity liquefied and later solidified in different norms” (6).  De Landa’s history culminates in a post-binarized order in which, nevertheless, the problem of reference returns: “We still have to deal with the world of referents, with the thousands of routinized organizations that have accumulated over the years” (273). De Landa repeats here a blindness of theory ‘after theory’: if theory is an enclosure within human textualism, then—yes—one needs to exit. But that does not mean that departure would allow one to occupy a new space of referents: the referent—as climate change discloses—is lost, fragmented, dispersed, always futural and always exceeding our calculative and referential captures. And it mutates. It is common to note an exponential acceleration of temporal vectors in which the perceptual and cognitive regimes we have at our disposal are increasingly incapable of experiencing the mutations and changes that mark our climate. That is to say: we have consumed, theorized, sanctified, justified and moralized ourself with such speed and frenzy that we have sped by and failed to witness the cataclysmic geology that is rupturing (or ought to be rupturing) the present. 
One would need to situate the ephemeral non-phrase “climate change” beyond all the variations on empathic alterity. For the ‘other’ like all supposedly redemptive outsides has been long commodified, and can be disturbed only by an asubjectal non-alterity that exceeds modernity and its smug formation of a critical ‘we.’ The ethical attention to otherness relies on the same metaphorics of the home and hospitality that can only play on the borders of the bounded. To track the ways in which our cognitive regimes and their critical sophistications have participated in this acceleration one might be alert to the ways in which our semantic reaction-formations, recuperations, redemption narratives, and re-humanizations maintain themselves as rhetorical regimes tied to these loops of foreclosure. Mnemotechnic circuits operate outside of the fables of alphabeticism or human archivism (to say nothing of a specifically Western or pseudo-monotheist “era of the book”), and actively pervade the production of life forms (DNA, RNA, photosynthesis, cell formation, and so on). Rather than something like text being sequestered from the orders of the political and now a geomorphic real—as, says, systems theory may assume—text would more helpfully refer to something like asystematic forces: not logics of exchange, production, circulation and order but disarticulation and dispersal. If text is rejected as some form of linguistic or idealistic capture then this is only if there has not been a full enough emphasis on the “non-human” conceit of language (Benjamin). Here, semiosis precedes rather than is added on to bios (so-called “biosemiosis”). There is no animal who opens the world through speech; in the beginning is the mark or inscription, which we retroactively domesticate as that which served to open up our home.
Given more, or different times, one might suggest that a sort of affirmative perspective emerges:
- First: the twentieth century preoccupation with human on human justice might be interrupted, with incompatible referentials arriving that would operate beyond archival memory and social history.
- Second, what we call the “political” would migrate from an exclusively social category (Aristotle), as it has been defined in relation to the polity, to a cognitive or epistemographic zone.
- Third, the era of the Book and its attendant nihilisms (alphabeticist monotheism) would appear as a dossier in the trajectory of telemorphic practices and memory regimes.
- Fourth, rather than segregate textual premises from the “real” world according to referential regimes and theotropes, the notion of text would intensify the sense of multiscalar and inhuman logics all operating in an open field that would be better referred to as an (a)biosemiosis, or nano-inscriptive process.
- Finally, in the “anthropocene era,” writing practices might be apprehended in their interweave with carbon and hydro-carbon accelerations, from a position beyond mourning and the automatisms of personification, or “identification.”
What emerges in the above postulates is that a hermeneutic reflex and semantic ritual might be repositioned. We would not only locate reactive processes of meaning in the sphere of textual criticism but discern a broader tendency towards the foreclosure of forces of the future. A certain reading practice—or returning to the proper (or the other) from which one might draw credit—would be akin to cannibalizing a fantasmatic past for the sake of an unreal future. The financial system in its current vortices, in which global currency collapse is constantly threatened, resembles the “unsustainability” of resource consumption and global heating. And each echoes with the current cognitive trances—“unsustainable,” yet extending themselves credit (“quantitative easing”). To think that the modern question of power ought to be one of mourning and sovereignty—or of questioning how we lost an originary openness and fell into systemic closure, or how we failed to recognize some genuine others—precludes facing up to the fact that misrecognition, violent dispersal, decentred and inhuman forces have produced the mourned other and the sovereign as a lure that closes down confrontation with disappearing “futures.” At issue is not just moving “beyond” the fetishization of mourning (get over it!) but parrying this steel trap relapse that, as in the model of the organicism analyzed by Hillis Miller (“it’s everywhere”), fuels the acceleration. One returns to a putative domain of very small things: inscriptions, nano-settings, memory regimes, perceptual settings.
The contemporary trends of today’s theory “after theory” often circle back to pre-critical premises. And they share a curious trait, aside from mourning 20th century master texts. Without disjuncture, the “new” model of networks and holistic circuitry that binds humanity and effortlessly traverses otherness and inter-species communications is the oddest replica of the previous organicisms whose suspension was the beginning of “theory” as such.  One is left with the impression that, as Žižek remonstrates of “the critical Left” during the ‘naughts [Žižek 2009], recent critical pre-occupations discretely collaborate with the accelerations we are witnessing today.
Bruno Latour, as observed above, offered a curious fable in which he identifies what he calls the “Modernist parenthesis” as the default mode of thought that accompanied the disclosure of an ecocatastrophic horizon. The twentieth century focus on “critique” that would be transfixed with reading and rewriting its own chaotic histories would have walked hand in hand with the unfolding impasse to terrestrial life. Latour’s “Modernist parenthesis” includes the very project of critique and a pre-occupation with the past at the expense of addressing the past’s now exponentially accelerated consequences. Latour—whose speculation departs from a painfully Gaiesque reading of the film Avatar—proposes that, as part of any reset today, the term materiality ought to be retired as part of a faux binary. He also recommends jettisoning the term “future”, which he would replace with the ratcheted down and humbled term “prospects.”
The label “Modernist parenthesis” is an intriguing trope. It resonates with a term like the “anthropocene” that can only, it implies, be pronounced in a future past tense which the speaker would inhabit. What might reading be if we were already looking back at our present, from a future that we cannot yet allow? Latour seems unaware to what degree he inscribes himself in this specular construction, both by his use of the retro-organicism of the Gaia metaphor and his premise, a signature of the “modernist” gameboard, of announcing a temporal break and new beginning, the revolutionary hypothesis of his imagined “parenthesis.” It is thus reluctantly that he finds his way back to a canonical twentieth century text, the “tired… trope” of Benjamin’s Angel of History to make his point:
This default appeal to Oedipus is perhaps too quick. Latour creatively misreads the “tired… trope” of an Angel who is, in Benjamin’s text, already something of a charlatan. The Angel is thoroughly impotent, aware of the scam of what the undead masses expect of him (to make them whole). “He” can’t give the undead masses and debris of history, turned toward him, what they want but lingers, as if wanting to, until he is simply torn away by what is called a “storm from the future.” This last angel is but the ragdoll of a certain angelicism—not just the costumed human face (with wings) imposed on the sign as messenger, here of no message, but the entire will to redemption narratives that his very form signifies. The text reads differently if one focuses on the word in Benjamin’s text, “storm,” which is repeated three times as the subject of three declarative sentences. It is a climactic term and subsequently indexed to what Thesis XVIII invokes as the aeons of organic life on earth within which human time appears as fractional seconds (an “anthropocene” perspective). Benjamin’s so-called Angel of History is in fact a vaudevillian figure and not the avatar of the hero, the materialist historiographer. He embodies and destroys both the angelicism of an utopist Marxian and the theotropes of a Cabbalist—the two specular idioms which the Theses fuses in order to cancel one another out. The description of the Angel is so abdicating, deceptive, and suicidal (one can imagine him diving for a cigarette as he looks at the masses) that it nullifies, in advance, the project of materialistic historiography. It also cancels any “weak messianism”—or any messianism whatsoever. The Angel is shown as a con, held to his post by his expectant readership who still wants to be made whole. It will never be clear whether the Angel only thinks this is what is wanted of him, or if the undead masses think he wants them to want this. He is the last trace of anthropopism, dolled up as a human figure to mediate chance. When he is torn away by the “storm” he removes the anthropo-narcissm of angelicism, the lure of giving matter a human form, face and, in this case, betraying bird wings. He is the last personification of a human face plastered on an imaginary other, already a wire-framed incandescent in Klee’s graphic deconstruction. He mimes and is dismissed as the sort of “weak messianism” that Benjamin elsewhere pretends to evoke—and which Derrida will return to, and try to use to keep a rhetoric of the future open (the trope of an impossible “democracy to come”). In this way, the Derrida of Specters of Marx regresses from Benjamin’s destructive project by restituting the phrase “weak messianism.” Derrida’s omission of ecocatastrophic logics from his otherwise compendious agenda—for instance, nowhere to be found in Specters’ “ten plagues” of the new world order—echoes elsewhere in an archival limit he seemed to require for “deconstruction” to rhetorically stage itself.
It is not that Benjamin’s Angel trope is about fixation on the past—as archive, trace, histories of power, identity formations, narratives of justice, inscriptions—and hence ritual or time management. It is that “He” thinks that’s what his readers seek in him, and he both gestures toward wanting to oblige (with, say, weak messianism?) and effectively gets out of dodge. Benjamin’s Angel is given to us as a sort of con: knowing what his readership needs and hires him for (since “He” is the messenger of no revelation and reports to no god, is nothing but sign itself), He wants to help but is violently blown away. This lure of redemptive history is about angelicism tout court, its reflex or façade, the compulsion to reconstitute and to be reassured (even sanctified). The trompe l’oeil points not only to where this faux Angel is in costume as the last anthropomorphic form and face. (He looks human, is more or less male traditionally). It also points to the disappearance of the pretended mediation of an otherwise void sign (angel as messenger, as hermeneut). It gives the lie to a certain pretense to ethics, and to cognitive moralisms, and indicates a participation of angelicism in a more radical evil of which it is, adamantly, structurally, and violently unaware.
The impulse toward angelicism pervades the recycling of twentieth century critical idioms in sophisticated variations. And this systemic relapse, like the Nachkonstruction of an oikos whose non-existence would accelerate its militarized defense, itself appears to further a suicidal arc. This new angelicism, like what Timothy Morton  calls “revised organicisms,” merits suspicion. It is opportunistic to note where various critical traditions of return and redemption mingle. In a conversation between Lauren Berlant and Michael Hardt on “love” as a political agency at a conference titled “On the Commons; or, Believing-Feeling-Acting Together” we can read yet one more variant of an appeal to an angel that would make us and our past whole. Let us ignore that the commons in question for Hardt and Berlant is not water, oil, or food but the “transformative” zone of a new social “relationality” of liberal souls. “Love” here retains the soft debris and promise of a Christological meme. If for Hardt love “makes central the role of affect within the political sphere,” for Berlant a more aggressive claim erupts:
Perhaps the metaphorical faux pas about “tendons” being ripped is a clue to the skeletal argument (this is not, literally not, the way to build muscle). What one witnesses is the effect of doubling down in the idiom of commitment (“change without trauma”?), a closing off, as academics of a certain age and temperament murmur, narcissistically, about affect. One has found a new name for the oscillation that retains a sovereignty of intentionality under a shifted algorithm: “Love is always about violating your own attachment to your intentionality, without being anti-intentional.” Sometimes, as we hear, it’s just not about us, even where self-love is called the commons and projects a socio-union, or jouissance, beyond the confines of a dubious “collective” individualism. Perhaps this is one marker of an end of a cycle, this fusion of critical and culturalist idioms, returning to a redeeming origin—this time as “farce.” This sort of eddy appears as the comfort spa for what could be called academic theory’s “Lehman moment.”
What is interesting in the horizons converging at present is not how a certain irreversibility impacts or is excluded still by telecracies and cognitive regimes. Nor is the main point of interest how sophisticated critical agendas have discretely served an agenda of institutional inertia—especially in the guise of critique. What is interesting is not the shape this will take, the variable catastrophes that are calculable or envisioned. What should be interesting is a logic of foreclosure or psychosis that has become, in part, normatized, accommodated or confirmed by corporate media.  This psychosis takes the form of excluding, occluding, or denying what is fully in the open and palpable, whether in science or before one’s eyes.
Latour assumes that a “Modernist parenthesis” erred by its assiduous focus on rereading the past otherwise, but he misses the target of Benjamin’s cartoon. It is not attention to the past but rather angelicism that constitutes a violent hermeneutic relapse. Perhaps an example of Latour’s paralyzing ‘parenthesis’ would be Derrida’s injunction against thinking the “future” in order to keep open the incalculable and the “to come.” In fact, the current plunge in economic and societal “prospects”—lost “sovereignty,” debt enslavement, banker occupation, collapse of reserves, and so on—is not premised on an undue focus on the past but is all about alternative time-lines. In this respect Latour’s “prospects” run into the same capture of futures that occurs in the market, whether manipulated from above to defer reckoning (the “too big to fail” logic) or bet against. Calculations about future events, the forward narratives that flood media and alternative journalism, suggest a time in which the commodification of the “past” has flipped forward—marking both past and future as fantasmatic projections. One is not, so to speak, nor have we been, outside of “literary” constructions, least of all when we say something like system or reserves. What is called the market, now technically rogue in the sense that it serves as a façade of manipulations to play for time, is all about bets on future circumstance. Expanded to commodified futures and derivatives, and credit default swaps; wired through ingenious and self-imploding “financial instruments”—said market parallels the global despoilment of future reserves and times (generations).
It would be indulgent to run through variations of this. Some are familiar: the consolidation of a new form of totalitarianism and internal security apparatuses; new climate war technologies (applied internally) testing the “full spectrum dominance” protocols that the Pentagon retains as its post-imperial template (which Mike Hill explores in this volume). Some are becoming visible: untimed prognoses of biospheric collapse (marine food chains), extreme weather disasters (mega-drought, flooding, fracking induced quakes). Others hover at the edge of recognizability: mass extinction events, the mathematics of global population “culling.” These nonetheless, like hydo-carbons and oil itself, literally shape visibility and invisibility—no oil, no hyper-industrial techno-culture, no photography as we know it, no cinema, no global transport. Is there an imperative, as Martin McQuillan suggests, to rethink the histories of writing and cognition in relation to carbon and hydrocarbon culture explicity—and to do so not only in relation to human mnemo-technologies? When Claire Colebrook converts extinction from a tragic taboo to an affirmative perspective she deflates the semantic boundedness that any angelicism has always sought to save. The problem is not that the past draws human narcissism toward it in the latter’s critical revisionism and deconstructions; the problem is that the more active “other temporalities” intervene, the more the artefacted present appears spellbound.
Certain threads appear across these essays in the aftermath of this residual angelicism, and the retreat of face: 
Time. Robert Markley requires for any thinking of ecocatastrophic exigencies a displacement of “human” temporalities with the geological. This model to be displaced adheres to all culturalist templates and shows itself in the regressive symptom of any argument for “sustainability” at present: “Sustainability ultimately refers to an idealized homeostasis between humankind and environment that never existed except in the sense that robust ecological systems could remain unaffected by low-density populations of humans chasing a few bison hither and yon.” Instead, “climatological time produces interference patterns that provoke complex and self-generating modes of disidentification.” This “disidentification” is applied to the problem of other modes of textualization and reading. By appearing indexed to temporalities into which human technics and life-effects are embedded, “the idea of climatological time paradoxically transcends and deconstructs a long philosophical and rhetorical tradition that contrasts kronos (chronological time) to kairos (the opportune moment, the “right” time, or, as in contemporary Greek, the weather).”
Ecotechnics. Hillis Miller exploits this default in the metaphorics of the oikos or home to note several things through a reading of Kafka’s curious verbal pet-thing, Odradek living outside and under the house. In a ranging speculation on the state of contemporary imaginaries confronted with the machinal inevitabilities now released by politics and material processes (rising oceans, say), Miller traces how ecotechnics both constructs itself and—since it does so by a technic that contradicts the premise of an interior shelter—generates an “auto-co-immunity” spiral, or suicidal movement. In reflecting how this works he marks where an endlessly recurrent organicization of and in thought, a certain way of reading literary effects, has all along furthered the destruction of an earth it had romanticized improperly—with notions like nature, body, sustainability, or even the figure of Gaia herself in systems theory. Miller turns from Kafka’s positioning of language in its most pre-letteral formations as (with Benjamin or de Man) to the non-human. From this, non-human reading of Odradek Miller passes to a critique of contemporary America. Miller’s US is less an evil exception and more the poster-child for a zombie acceleration and suicidal “auto-co-immunity” complex. As Miller speculates on the rising sea levels from his home on the Maine coast: “The earth is not a super-organism. It is not an organism at all. It is best understood as an extremely complex machine that is capable of going autodestructively berserk, at least from the limited perspective of human needs. Global warming will bring about wide-spread species extinction. It will flood our low-lying islands, our coastal plains, and whatever towns, cities, and houses are on them.” That is, it implies avant la lettre a dispossession of metaphor.
Care. Bernard Stiegler draws out the problem of a third limit of Capitalism that encroaches on the biosphere. Stiegler makes a pharmocological call for the reconfiguration of “care” and the dispersal of the “short-time” and telecratic degradations of libidinal economies which anaesthetize and infantilize the present: “The third limit of capitalism is not only the destruction of the reserves of fossil fuel, but the limit constituted by the drive to destruction of all objects in general by consumption, in so far as they have become objects of drives, and not objects of desire and attention—the psychotechnological organisation of consumption provoking the destruction of attention in all its forms, on the psychic level as well as the collective level.” Stiegler’s strategy shifts from any biopolitical imaginary to a field in which psychopower as the blind capture of attention might be countered by “waging war against speculation, but also against modes of life founded on the short term, of which the most every-day example is the organisation of society by a marketing systematically exploiting drives by destroying libido as that which evinces the capability of sustainable investment.” Stiegler’s shift to a thought of technicity without reserve, echoed in other essays in this volume, shifts the grounds of the political to “a noopolitics susceptible of reversing and overcoming the deadly logic of psychopower...where economizing means taking care.”
Unicity. Justin Read tours the logics of a telecratic global polis in which binaries have been suspended, biopolitical premises displaced, and a mode of pure exteriorization reigns amidst subjects without subjectivity: “the Unicity is the line at which the world reaches absolute network integration, the mutual embedding of seemingly diverse informational networks into a complex systematic singularity.” The topography of this “unicity” and virtual telepolis displaces what had been called public space into a circuitry of data formations and the recyclable memes of production or consumption without explicit reference, and before which the only politics possible would be elicited by eco-catastrophic and zoopolitical tacts or ruptures: “By including all into a singular oneness, the Unicity functions only in terms of absolute exteriority. Everyone and everything is always already ‘outside.’ ...This absolute exteriority alters how we must think of power and relations to power. Once everything is on the outside, there can be no such thing as transcendence, at least not as some metaphysical Being that inheres in physical matter.”
Scale. If not only critical theory but the geopolitical imaginary seems to be in cognitive hiatus before the logics of climate change, Timothy Clark recalls us to the problem of any metrics, or “scale,” that cognitive regimes face. While not unrelated to broader forms of anesthesia or denial, he finds a “derangement of scale” between cognitive affect and the material effects evoked, which continually eludes any stable metric. This derangement arrives as a network of disjunctures: “Here a barely calculable nonhuman agency brings about a general but unfocused sense of delegitimation and uncertainty, a confusion of previously clear arenas of action or concepts of equity; boundaries between the scientific and the political become newly uncertain, the distinction between the state and civil society less clear, and once normal procedures and modes of understanding begin to resemble dubious modes of political, ethical and intellectual containment.”
Sexual (In)difference. If Stiegler infers that the prospect of impacting or altering the biosphere arrives as a “lucky” point of reconfiguration for thought, Claire Colebrook takes the taboo premise of human disappearance—the limit implication of so-called “anthropogenic” global warming—as a point of departure. She finds that the affirmation rather than occlusion of extinction opens logics that had been, and are, occluded in the regime of organicism. The affirmation of extinction as a logic, rather than being somehow pessimistic, opens thinking beyond the mourning of sexual difference, which had “always operated as a moralism in theories of life.” Writing against ecofeminism as itself a discretely regressive practice, she finds the dominance and ideology of sexual difference to have been an organicist ideology which finds itself suspended before the thinking of extinction: “it is precisely because of a certain clinging to bounded sexual difference and a fear of individual extinction, that the human species is now forced to confront a species extinction that will open it up to the extinction of the sexual difference of kinds.”
Non-species Invasion. If ecotechnics names a non-existence of the eco as “nature,” “home,” or interior, Jason Groves opens a genre variation in which the present is read from the perspective of ex-species logics. Underlying the disarticulation of human modernity that climate change represents behind the façade of globalization, Groves tracks the terrestrial transfer and eco-invasions of alien species that operate as real world disarticulations of contemporary human life and its geographism. This border-destroying transfer operates, in its bio-contaminations, as a form of real-work textualism outside the purview of anthropic perception, and without face: “The liquidation of the continental scheme, registered by the geographers as a ‘crisis in conceptualization,’ is in fact occurring robustly outside of a conceptual horizon.”
Bio-ethics, otherwise. Joanna Zylinska adds an entire other dimension to ex-species thoughts with a discrete demolition of current critical practices and their soft circulation within retro-humanist motifs rebranded, in the texts she examines, as the “post-human.” She turns, specifically, to animal studies. At issue implicitly is the trend by which the “post-human” as trope has been deflated and domesticated from its once Nietzschean premise to speculation of cuddly cyborgs and pets. In this way, the “post-human” itself has posited (and then inhabited) a human definitional that never existed to begin with, and has done so repeatedly. In the tendency for “animal studies” to choose as its exemplary other (and sometime erotic partner) mammalian pets with names, or companion species, one encounters the sort of faux other that updates 90s multiculturalism to supposed intra-species communication. This act of “extension” persists within the recuperations of human mastery. In reversing this template of the inclusion and recognition of others she not only posits a a “bio-ethics, otherwise” which would have to account for microbes, viruses, and distinctly uncuddly life-effects, but also a bio-ethics that departs from a conception of “life”: “not just a dog, a cat or a horse from the family of befriended or domestic animals, but rather a parasite, bacteria or fungus?” If so-called animal studies relapses by “extending” the model of empathetic others from the subaltern, to the animal, “three fundamental blind spots [mark] the intermeshed trajectories of thought in animal studies: 1—The humanist blind spot, 2—The technicist blind spot, where much work goes into recognizing the animal’s anima, i.e. its “subjectivity,” with the animal becoming an extension of the human. 3—The violentist blind spot, where violence is posited as the enemy of ethics.”
Post-Trauma. Catherine Malabou demands an abrupt departure from the way anteriority and mnemonics have been organized. She analyses the way trauma has been circulated with the temporal injunction of the “always already:” it is assumed that we must inhabit a site of guilty loss. From this assumption that we are always already at loss, always already traumatized, an entire structure of repetition compulsion and mnemonics ensues. Reversing this bad conscience would entail an abrupt departure not only from the residual strictures of psychoanalysis—here, the fetishization of trauma as a fetish of subjectivity maintenance—but those of post-structuralist orthodoxy themselves. Refusing the Lacanian (and Derridean) demand that the “always already” re-inscribes everything in an organization of sheer anteriority, she posits a thought beyond the “always already” through a normativity of what is called the post-traumatic (a metaphor for which is PTSD). This shift would issue in a subject without subjectivity. This creative destruction of the traumatized subject opens a different chrono-politics and materiality beyond mourning and perpetual re-inscription: “the post-traumatized subject disconnects the structure of the always already. The post-traumatized subject is the never more of the always already. We propose to entertain a fourth dimension, a dimension that might be called the material… . If destruction has always already happened, if there is something as a transcendental destruction, then destruction is indestructible. What if the always already might explode? What if the always already were self-destructive and able to disappear as the so-called fundamental law of the psyche?”
Ecologies of War. Mike Hill shifts the scene further into technologies of the contemporary war machine as it redefines itself as climate change war. Hill argues that not only have the terms of atmospherics been telemorphically redefined (with new conceptions of the “aerial”), but also that the protocols of combat have shifted against the human soldier altogether. The premises for conflict and resource wars shift from the geographical wars of enemy states (enemy others as in the past) into a self-devolving and indefinite system that exceeds any human reference and redefines what is in the kill-chain. This autogenic system is turned against its innovators, and itself, and becomes the condition for its own advance. In this newly self-armed zoosphere: “machine vision re-works our spatial bearings and enables the weaponization of temporality itself.”
Post-Carbon Thought. Opening further the relation of writing to the hydrocarbon era of energy, Martin McQuillan invokes the specter of a “carbon thought” which traverses both rhetorical and material register. Carbon is indicative of what he invokes as “other materialities.” Focusing on both the hyperbolic energy consumption that marks the late anthropocene and the trajectory of writing as a carbon-indexed technology that has redefined the artefaction of “life” itself, McQuillan formulates a new energetics in which script and fuel emanate from forces of the past that are stored and spent for a non-renewable, and therefore accelerating, future. The thought of carbon or the possibility of a post-carbon thought is probed as an alternate way to think against the present (the befuddled, ravenous time of “peak everything”). McQuillan conjures this in relation to any possible poetics of oil. For it is oil that has always been figured as waste and source, as residual black and viscous storage of disarticulated past organic “life,” a sheer anteriority and storage system of black sunlight cycled over aeons, sucked, that will be transposed (into energy, technics, light, fuel). Through this active history in question one encounters “the theo-thanto-carbo-economy” that both persists in writing forms and must be deconstructed by them in a far more urgent manner than has been opened by the legacies of, say, deconstruction in the familial and auto-immune paralysis one finds it in today: “Writing philosophy about carbon, like making film about oil, is one of those tasks that must inevitably inhabit the positions of the theo-thanto-carbo-economy but somehow render those positions plastic by reading the deposits emitted by the economy in order to rearrange them according to a new logic and criteriology.”
Health. Eduardo Cadava and I turn, here, to what might be a mere Satyr play within this dossier: a critical blog addressing a recent episode in post-democratic America’s current hallucinology. Interrupting the creation and undermining of “Obama-care” at a certain juncture, Cadava and I interrogate what the ‘ill’ is that cannot be cured in a system that is afflicted with a sort of zombie “democracy” and that is also marked by systemic occlusion of climate change from its media and political discourse. We in turn explore how small political destructions preclude an American political imaginary from finding anything like its own social (or historial) prescriptions.
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- The present volume grew out of a series of symposia focused on critical theory in an era of climate change, hosted by the Institute on Critical Climate Change, a project devised by myself and Henry Sussman and executed by the creative efforts of Mary Valentis, a full partner in the enterprise (http://www.criticalclimatechange.com/). The companion volume to this effort is edited by Henry Sussman and published as Impasses of the Post-Global: Theory in an Era of Climate Change II (series on Critical Climate Change, Open Humanities Press).
- Since the economic “crisis” has eclipsed any possible attention to the ecological “crisis,” and since the trope of crisis itself operates as a rhetorical diversion (like, in Naomi Klein’s reading, “shock”), the occlusion today of the latter represents more than a victory for corporate media in America, where “climate” cannot be mentioned in a presidential election. This occlusion is acknowledged as “global” or systemic, as the global discussions and farcical outcomes of Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban make clear repeatedly [Wente 2011; Thornton 2011]. Naomi Klein’s recent shift from the analytic of “shock” as a planned tool of militarized expropriation to “climate change” as the “biggest crisis of all” runs up against the impasse. That is, of imagining it as an organizing other for social activism [Klein 2011]. Diverting from her influential analysis of the uses of predatory “shock” Klein marks a “new normal” in which “serial disasters” appear as unexceptional or naturalized (in the epigraph opening this introduction).
- It is an interesting marker of the global “credit crisis” when the lords of finance meet at Davos to speculate on alternatives to the rogue “capitalism” they have been produced by—while consolidating a neo-feudal order of debt slave societies. At the heart of climate change denial is a toxic mix of short term memory formations (telemarketing, algorhythmic trading), corporate propaganda, and an odd rhetorical cocktail of theological defiance and defensive humanism in which the trigger is the word “anthropogenic,” provoking a speciesist rejection of blame (it wasn’t us, and its premise is a hoax to force eco-socialism, and so on).
- This is the argument of Arundhati Roy in “Is there life after democracy?” (2009), calculating the implications of China and India’s middle class all acquiring cars alone. The premise of liberationist or post-colonial critique mimes, with its restorations of universal subjectivity, the neo-liberal promise of a world of American consumers.
- Referencing a speciesist crisis that “cannot be reduced to a story of capitalism” (Chakraharty 2009: 221), Dipesh Chakraharty elaborates a “universal” unification of man displacing cultural identifies not out of a positive but a “negative universal history”: ”climate change poses for us a question of a human collectivity, an us, pointing to a figure of the universal that escapes our capacity to experience the world. It is more like a universal that arises from a shared sense of a catastrophe. It calls for a global approach to politics without the myth of a global identity, for, unlike a Hegelian universal, it cannot subsume particularities. We may provisionally call it a ‘negative universal history’” (222).
- De Landa glosses: “It is important, however, not to confuse the need for caution in our explorations of the nonlinear possibilities of (economic, linguistic, biological) reality, and the concomitant abandonment of utopian euphoria, with despair, resentment, or nihilism… . And while these views do indeed invoke the ‘death of man,’ it is only the death of the ‘man’ of the old ‘manifest destinies,’ not the death of humanity and its potential for destratification” (273).
- To index such a perspective is not to accede to a discourse of crisis or apocalypse, but the obverse; nor has it anything to do with mourning. The anthropocene marks processes that are entirely banal, of the mud (as Timothy Morton avers). Rather than having relinquished textualization for the real world of social relation and historical narratives, for the “political” and institutional power, it seems post-theory made a wrong turn from which it has difficulty pulling away. What seems readable today is rather the multi-planed orders of a sort of bio-textualization without limit—not one bounded or defined by human writing or technologies of human memory alone.
- In fact, one might read the “late Derrida” upside-down, not as a movement beyond his early exanthropic violence but as the retracing of what a pre-Derridean narrative leading to, or paused, before that would have been. One could read these pre-occupations and their rhetorical compromises as a strategy to embed his project within the canonical academic community in a way not easily erased. But the result has been a post-Derridean “deconstruction” that pretends it exists as a continuity with or in possession of a certain capital to be tended and given orthodoxy, an inability to depart from what is not in Derrida’s text (climate change, say) or to recuperate its threads gradually (deconstructive “ethics”?)—that is, an auto-immune phase. One could say that Derida had always had two columns at work, the exanthropic and that entering humanistic discourses and circulating there, and that the second has come, rather predictably, to dominate just as the first, eclipsed, may be called for. The turning point would seem to be when Derrida, no doubt trying to counter the implosion of de Man and the way that was aimed against “deconstruction” in America, would risk such hyperbole, to rally the troops, as “deconstruction” is justice.
- The turning away from “climate change” as a public discussion or one pursued by states has been confirmed during the global economic crisis—which has supplanted the “war on terror” meme in this regard. That has taken the form of deferring any address as if until the economic situation permits by providing extra public resources [Harvey 2011; Wente 2011], or the foreclosure enforced by corporate media and financial capture of “political” discourse [Thornton 2011].
- The present essays are introduced as indexed to a single covering topos (Time, Care, War, and so on). The approach is the residue of an earlier proposal by Henry Sussman to compose a broader “atlas” to critical climate change, which I retain very loosely for the overview it provides. The premise was to examine what alterations and ruptures occur within those chosen topoi when they are placed in contact with the emerging twenty-first century logics in which the calculi of mass extinction events and resource depletion overtakes and the socio-historical projects and deconstructive aims of twentieth century criticism.