Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Narrating The Pre-Apocalypse: Daniel Coffeen, Ph.D.

There is an eschatologic strand that has run through our culture for eons and runs through our very private sense of self. There is a deep ambivalence about it: "Holy shit, I don't want it all to end!" And, in the same breath: "Please, let it come down — all of it. This life it too much."

Speaking of the end of times wreaks of nihilism, of a death wish — the ultimate death wish.

But of course it is obvious that the life we lead, here in the US, is unsustainable. The engine of our society literally runs on oil — and we're burning through that at an alarming pace. This is a self-cannibalizing circuit that inevitably trends towards zero.

And the other main natural resource is human vitality which is being drained even faster than oil: we are being tapped dry, sustained by hormone-drenched lattes, Xanax, Adderall, and flat screen TVs. This is the same zero sum game: we need bodies to do the work but we're killing the bodies, literally rendering them impotent (see: pervasive use of Viagra etc).
Narrating the Pre Apocalypse

Michel Houellebecq


But just because the logic of the system is zero sum doesn't mean it must see this logic through to the end. Human beings, like many viruses, are adaptive. Oil will give way to something else. And the human body will give way to something else. Michel Houellebecq suggests that we'll eliminate breeding and childhood as we introduce cloning and, in his "Possibility of an Island," more and more virtual interactions.

The end of the American Empire — which surely is at hand — is not the end of times. It is the beginning of new times.

What we call culture is emergent and, like everything, is in a state of flux, of becoming. Order emerges, necessarily, along multiple paths and in multiple forms. Foucault traces the movement from hierarchy — royal power from above — to panopticon: power everywhere, enforced by the ubiquitous, invisible gaze.

The panopticon is now giving way to new forms of power, new modes of control and order, at once terrifying and liberating. On the one hand, we have the dominance of corporations and their Spectacle, enforcing loyalty to work and Capital by co-opting identity: "I am a Mac," "I am a PC," "I think it's cool to work for Google," etc. This is hard to resist because it's so insidious; the Spectacle entangles our very sense of self.
Narrating the Pre Apocalypse

Michel Foucault


On the other hand, we get these distributed circuits of information and the rhizomic distribution of goods and capital. As corporations have tended towards centralization, the interwebs keeps offering lines of flight, alternative paths: local music distributed globally, gift economies, new currencies, the rise of amateur knowledge (Wikipedia, this blog, etc), etc etc.

My point of all of this is: things are changing. Change is constitutive of life. And change is always, necessarily, ambivalent if not multivalent.

Daniel Coffeen, Ph.D. on Twitter | Blog

1 comment:

Namuun Batbold said...

Smooth.