Dilapidations in an Emergency: Thoughts on an Obscurantist Apocalypse

…the earth is extinguished, though I never saw it lit.
Beckett, Endgame

1. The Scream (in which you insist on reading things on the Internet)

There’s a story because there always is. At a time when the paratactical, disintegrative quality of experience turns narrative into the legal and limitless opium of the classes, nothing happens— which is to say, nothing appears—without first having passed through the digestive tract of a vast machine for extracting and commodifying sense. Two sentences in and its rotors are already whirring at the edges of your thoughts. It’s the noise of tomorrow’s narrative frames slouching towards… wherever, waiting to come forth from the virtual gigantomachia cum semiotic delirium from which it is born. Of course, none of the narratives really cohere or serve to shield anyone from proximity to the Real anymore; there’s a price, after all, to be paid for attempting to replace all social bonds and (mystifying all social relations) with what Debord called the ‘spectacle’. But the stories—tedious, confected, inconsistent and mendacious as they are—still bring a minimal order to the affects and associations which your unprofitably unfocused and—as the statistics bear out— anxiety-stupefied, depression-pulverised consciousness needs like a person dying in the desert needs another sand dune briefly masquerading as water. Ignore this for now. You’ve got enough to deal with. Who doesn’t these days? And, already, there’s the swarm of questions that assaults you in those brief, uncomfortable moments when you still haven’t decided which fragments you’re going to try to shore against your ruins, which hoary or newly-confected categories you’re going to use to try and frame— and thereby contain your reaction to — the words that your eyes have learned to pass over quickly like so many advertisements or images of carnage; so many ubiquitous managerial nostrums that give the lie to the idea that language is something that signifies:

Who is writing this? Are they one of the “good people”, the up and comers? What if there’s something sexier, more digestible, more profoundly relevant—never ask “to what?”in the vicinity, preferably shorn of that Bush I era reader-apostrophising shit? Is this going to help with the Stakhavonite self-promotion quotas that our New™ Old Regime imposes on all those who wish to work, live, or “enjoy”, but which is particularly the lot of those whose ambitions are inflected both by the assiduously cultivated petit-bourgeois fear of falling and the more classical bourgeois desire to be acknowledged as a well-remunerated member of a secular Elect sequestered from everything squalid and brutal in the world, but also known for disapproving of it vaguely but… vigorously? Do you ever have those quiet moments when you feel like you’re destined to be a member of the more fortunate (and, ergo, odiously complicit) portion of the Reprobate of a system which ensures that only an ever-diminishing handful (invariably born into wealth) will be saved? Again, don’t worry about this too much. It’ll probably be fine.  There’s no profit in prophets these days (which is why there aren’t any) but if there were, they’d tell you something about a Day when All of your Likes will have turned into Love or, better, some vestigially prestigious, ostensibly benevolent, but also wildly remunerative career. Your future children’s privates school fees aren’t going to pay for themselves— there’s no upper limit to the price of positional goods—and, anyway, it might still all work out in the end.  For now, let’s scan the text for shibboleths, we know how to recognise those—education is so important, these days, you know?

Yes, if you’re reading this, you’re almost definitely a precarious, casualised, exploited, disposable consumer/aspirant commodity. You’re eking out a precarious existence on the edges of the obscenely exploitative imperial core of a dying Empire, living off data-stream phantasms and complex carbohydrates, each of which fill you with regret, self-reproach and much else that seeps through the vacillation between megalomaniacal self-assertion and intense self-loathing that we are used to thinking of as subjectivity in the age of Epstein, Bolosnaro, Koch Brothers Unlimited. But that’s exactly why it’s so important to know how to recognise the powerful people in your milieux-manqués and to keep giving them what they want. How else are you going to know where to direct your frequent public suggestions that you should be associated with and eventually counted among their diminishing number? But then the anxiety rises again: Wait. Why the fuck am I reading this, anyway? Is there something more obviously worth Stanning, sharing or execrating as little as three clicks or two swipes away? (Project for Future Warburgians: a taxonomy of all the gestures of the digital age scoured for esoteric significance through juxtaposition with the history of painting, speculative robotics, alchemy, Patristics, Victorian monographs on taxidermy and neurasthenia, the collected medical and mathematical writings of the Sassanids &c. &c.)  What if someone else gets to that other thing that I could be looking at first and makes the most banger comment while that’s still easy?

How long have I been looking at this screen anyway and does anyone remember my original intentions when I picked up the device this morning? [ominous, agonised Kyle McLachlan voice] What year is it? [Silence. CUT TO: Prolonged Sherilyn Fenn/Laura Palmer scream]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-sm9r0_q5o



Scant decades into the uncontrolled, planetary social experiment of the Internetitself a mere side-hustle of the broader, interminable neoliberal experiment best known by its unwieldy CIA moniker, Operation WIWLCJDLW (“what if we let capitalism, just do, like, whatever?)the Match the Content to the Narrative and its Fun for the Whole Family spin-off Match the Narrative to the Content, is still the best, or at any rate, the least avoidable game in town. And if—Kyrie eleison—you’re match-making [sic] tendencies happen to follow an emergent market trend, someone might even let you, Fortunate Sons and Daughters, keep manipulating symbols and juxtaposing letters for rent money instead of spending most of your day driving food to the houses of people who are “WFH” during a Plague Year. Otherwise, keep trying!  Learn to fail better if you’re not of the caste that fails upwards. In the end, you’ll probably join the ranks of the rest of us and enjoy/suffer your status as another post-industrial drone with a libido that can no longer be differentiated from its super-ego, another consumer/extractor in the Sense Mines which do the important societal work of further enriching what ancient Chinese Legalists (probably) called the Four Billionaires who own the Nine Platforms. A propos of nothing, here’s a photograph of a book that I bought that other people like. Be the change you want to see, which is of course to say, sequester your dead.

What were we…? Right. Yes.

The point of all this was just that no-one can resist a story, which is why an infinite, agonistic, uncannily ululating swarm of them is the sort of thing with which anyone could easily eat themselves to death with within the space of two low, dishonest, decades that feel like, in the trauma and revisionism distorted version of your memories, like one infernally protracted malediction of an afternoon… Remember Lacan on the bee that keeps sucking honey after it’s been bisected, so the honey just leaks out through its abdomen? This, as the Deleuzeans like to say, is not an analogy…

One must imagine the algorithm happy.

2. Tropology and Dramaturgy of the Disaster

But enough of these scattershot resentment-barbs. (Honey! Abdomens! Leakage! —sorry) I mentioned narratives and the power of narratives because the story that I want to talk about today—which I want to try and tease out from the snarl of its brethren—is about the revelatory powers of disaster, about what can happen because of what, ostensibly, can be shown via events that have the force of a catastrophe. The plague is one of its more familiar figures, which is to say, it is a tropos or topos of what we could cautiously call the “apocalyptic”.  This story (whose singularity, unity and self-identity are, as with all such things, a convenient illusion) goes something like this:

For a long time, there was an order, a society, a via vita. Perhaps the origins of this order of things are ascribed to a mythic or immemorial past, perhaps they are discernibly the product of some ad hoc compromise or inaugural amnesty that imposes the mandatory oblivion of the last form of civil strife or class war out of which the current dispensation emerged before the mysterious yet inevitable calcification that elevates the contingent and the arbitrary to the rank of what has been ever thus. But the laws, conventions, and institutions (all that is implied by the Greek word nomos) fray under the weight of their own contradictions, their blindness to their own evanescence, their hubris, their obvious and systematic injustice, their irrationality or their mounting failures. The illusions through which this order (perhaps we should say ‘world’) reproduces itself remain ubiquitous; everything seems placid on the surface of things. There are, however, occasionally noticeable glitches in what passes for normality, the kind that seem to haunt the edges of the frame in slower-paced horror films. Cracks start to appear in the mirrored surface of the world (and what is a world if not something whose depths are implicated in its surfaces?). Perhaps the increasingly frenetic efforts made to polish once binding illusions only draws attention to their tarnish. Perhaps the disquiet that follows such processes is simply swallowed in the soporific of the everyday. Certainly, the fruits of the dissatisfaction will be subject to tactics of co-optation, diversion, divide and conquer when they are not violently repressed by whatever constitutes the militarised cops of the epoch—the shock troops of every Empire in its death throes. But now the storm—inevitable catch-all metaphor for any other kind of disaster from war, invasion, revolution, collapse—is coming.  Through its violence and its fulminations what was hidden will come into the light. The very distribution of light and shadow that constitutes the world as a complex distribution of the intensity of appearances will be redistributed, inverted, exploded. As the crisis unfolds, old bonds are shattered alongside old certainties, new communal figures are born out of the ecstasy of this dissolution. There will be trials, battles, judgements but, in the end, and through the general impulsion towards an ending, something else is rendered possible: a new dispensation, a new order, a new (sense of) the world. The process and its end can be restitutive or even redemptive, but even when the disaster fails to yield even a new project or idea, there is still something, a struggle to extract some minimal sense amidst the senselessness of all of this destruction and death: a lesson, a new imperative, a ghost of a chance to make an order different from the one out of which the catastrophe was born and nurtured. You know this story. It is one of the oldest because and not despite of its variations, its epigones, the retroactive visions that emerge under its signature. But what if something had happened to the phenomena and to the process that the story and its variations tried to describe? What if we lived in a time of constant catastrophes where nothing was revealed, and nothing could end?


To speak of an apocalypse is to invoke the revelation that the Greek word Apokalypsis nominates (from apokaluptein—to reveal). Today, this sense is almost always conjoined, where it is not actively superseded by the connotations that the word takes from some of the more evocative passages in the last book of the New Testament: Apokalypsis Jōhannou, The Revelation of John. From fire and blood, flaming mountains being hurled into the sea resulting in the death of a third of all marine life: war, famine and, of course, plagues—seven of them (hepta plēgas according to Rev 15:5) —it is the content of this book and not the meaning of the word that culminates in the fact that, for some time, we have been unable to see or hear the word without immediately linking it to disaster, crisis, catastrophe. It will have been noted that these last three words (the first from Latin, the others Greek) have a respectively astrological, juridical, and dramaturgical provenance. We can see this as testimony both to the long history and the complexity of the semantic-conceptual field in which the idea of apocalypse buckles like space-time under the influence of gravity. Canonically (although to use this word is to invoke the number of occasions when the Biblical Apocalypse has been a candidate for consignment to the apocrypha), the apocalypse is a catastrophe that is cosmic in scale. Its disasters belong to the unfolding of the eschaton, the End of All Things. But, of course, every canonical use begets apocryphal doubles and epigones.

For the latter, consider the way we use the term “post-apocalyptic” to refer to a particular fictional genre. The first thing to note is that the very idea of a post-apocalypse implies that the ostensible (secular) apocalypse (in the sense of catastrophe) has fallen short of the actual destruction of the world, or the saeculum (the word is synonymous with ‘world’ but has an original sense of a time—between the beginning and the end, between revelation of Christ and his Return). With the post-apocalyptic, the drama (or comedy in Dante’s sense) begins after the bombs have fallen, the disaster has struck, society/ “civilisation” has collapsed. If the post-apocalyptic genre preserves any sense of apocalypse as ‘revelation’, it is usually only in the sense that the apocalypse as disaster is used as a dramatic device to bring about what is usually supposed to be some ostensible truth about human nature—hence the acrid, familiar odour of Hobbesianism that so often sticks to and suffuses the genre like the stale beer smell on a pub carpet. The appeal of post-apocalyptic “media”, stems from the idea that some fundamental, unchanging reality of the human existential situation is more visible when our nature is no longer occulted by civilisational, technological and consumer comforts. (It is no accident that post-apocalyptic stories are mostly a product of precisely exactly those hyper-consumer societies that are depicted as collapsing and dying in fire in the first Act of the drama.) This is most obvious, from what is arguably the most enduring figure of this genre, the zombie as a human being (and thus, according to the least convincing illusion of our liberal plutocracies, a member of the sovereign demos) transformed as if by bourgeois or reactionary anxieties into a mindless, relentless, undead cerebrophagic horde, like the dream of a Tory MP who accidentally finds himself holidaying in Ibiza. If the zombie apocalypse, however, is about allowing the fantasy of having to survive the state of nature and sometimes to forge a social contract from out of it (a feature that through its connection with the Western marks it as an American genre), the zombie—generally convenient as a species whose posthumous murder produces no pangs of guilt in either characters or audience/readers—also plays the thanklessly heroic role of ushering in the post-consumer societies where frontier fantasies can meet ideas about cycles of history, virtue and necessity, the desire for safety versus the desire for freedom &c.

Once we start thinking of the possibilities of apocalypse beyond simply cosmic destruction, something of the apocalypse can appear to be everywhere. For example, it could be argued that every drama (including what used to be called a “kitchen-sink” drama with three characters) is a sort of minor apocalypse if, by virtue of the events that unfold within it, something comes to light which otherwise would have remained hidden. In the real world, disasters can, and often are, things that are all the more appalling for the way that they seem to signify nothing. Nonetheless, it as if disasters take on revelatory functions, become, in this sense, apocalypses as soon as they are represented on a stage or on a screen. Of course, today since the time of the Vietnam War if not for the sinking of Titanic, the fact that so many real disasters are immediately subject to mass-media representation, circulation and commentary, results, as Baudrillard noted decades ago, in images of real events, real disasters taking on an uncanny air of fiction, even when we find ourselves at their heart, a fictitious quality that, perhaps ironically, today’s Hollywood spectacles seem to lack. In saying this, I do not mean to suggest that Hollywood’s technological-pornographic obsession with bringing verisimilitude to the fantastic, with creating simulacra in the Baudrillardian sense has actually succeeded. On the contrary, in making simulations seem increasingly real, something of the aridity and banality of the society that produces these spectacles creeps into and shines forth from its cultural artefacts: the grimness and exhaustion, the forced smile of the human resources manager seeps through into its fictions just as the structure of fiction permeates our everyday reality. But if the structure of fiction is discernible in even our least narrativized “documentary” representations of reality and our spectacular fictions ooze the grimness of the everyday (even and especially when they are most determined to offer light and colour to the increasingly dystopian) is it reasonable to say that either of them are apocalyptic, even and especially when they are, in a number of senses, disastrous?

It will be objected at this point that by stretching the category of apocalypse so that it survives a transference into multiple, sometimes contradictory contexts is to risk rendering the category meaningless. Clearly, if everything is apocalyptic, nothing is. But the temptation for the idea to take on vicissitudes, to echo across different and sometimes distant contexts is given by the fact that the apocalypse has always been a promiscuous, peripatetic figure something which resists confinement to its ostensibly proper place, register, discursive domain. One clear source of this promiscuity is the fact that if the Apocalypse of John of Patmos is supposed to be a revelation, it is a revelation that is supposed to be read in the light of a more fundamental revelation marked by the ministry and, above all the person of Christ, something revealed by the gospels and further revealed through the acts and epistles of the apostles, the Church, the Fathers, the clergy &c. In this sense the “final” apocalypse, the one associated with the Book of Revelations, relates to the revelation at the heart of Christianity as a set consisting of a door and a key in which door and key ceaselessly swap roles like in The Comedy of Errors.  The history of theology, like the history of hermeneutics more generally has always been (as Kafka, Borges and Beckett all knew) marked by this sort of dynamic reversibility of keys and doors. What serves now as a principle of interpretation has itself to be interpreted and interpreted on the basis of what, at another time, might have been the object in need of interpretation. Hence, the inevitable questions, by which the category of revelation necessarily slips its bounds: are the visions that the Book of Revelations describes supposed to be a literal description of future events or an allegorical or even anagogical one? Does the text refer to something proximate or distant or indeed, as Augustine said, outside and thus indifferent to historical, i.e., “secular” time? And if the revelation concerns the Ending of the world (even if “world” is relativised to mean “some world”, a society, an order) does this apparent finality of “the” end not allow for a constant displacement of the finality or misrecognition of its “deadline” —the possibility that an ordinary disaster is mistaken for a final and ordained ending, that something that appears to belong to the order of grace is completely explicable through the order of nature, that we fail to comprehend or hide from what the disaster is supposed to bring to light?

What if —and here we can see the concept shift so it is no longer the exclusive province of whatever people mean by “religion” —every disaster, or even every event could be regarded or at least examined for something that would be revelatory? Think, for example, of Hegel’s Phenomenology in which reason has the properly apocalyptic task of making sense out of (i.e., of revealing) a reality, that is, in its essence, ultimately nothing but the continuous revelation of the Absolute to itself. On the rare occasions when Hegel explicitly invokes the theologoumenon of revelation, it is not in the name of describing something that transcends human reason—Hegel has no sympathy with the Kantian idea that reason must be limited to make room for faith. Instead, the author of The Science of Logic takes the idea that Christianity’s self-conception as revealed religion and turns this into at once a poetic expression and a guarantor of the deep “speculative” truth that there are no limits to reason properly understood, that there is nothing finite that does not contain the seeds of the revelation that finitude is always a consequence of the self-limitation of something infinite.

One practical upshot of this is that, for Hegel, to quote a line of Mao’s beloved of Badiou: “we will come to know all that we did not know”. True, the move to Absolute Knowledge is less about the comprehensiveness of a human encyclopaedia and more about how we know ourselves in knowing reality and how reality comes to know itself through the odyssey of something (spirit, Geist) whose nature is to continually seek, lose and eventually find itself in what initially seems to be its other: human beings with other human beings, life and form, nature and culture, God and Man, freedom and interdependence, the universal and the particular, appearance and essence etc. But if Hegel seeks to dissolve the opposition between revelation and reason (by making each the ground of the other such that their difference is sublated into an ultimate identity) his philosophy contains the idea of an apocalypse that begins with creation and whose end is nothing less than the gradual self-understanding of a reality that includes both consciousness (knowing) and what seems to stand outside of it. But if Hegel makes everything (including seeming catastrophes) into part of an on-going revelation, he is opposed, on the one hand, by thinkers who turn the continuing fact that anything appears, i.e., the fact of consciousness into a catastrophe. On a certain reading of Schopenhauer, Thomas Ligotti, Nietzsche, and even certain strands of Buddhism: the disaster is consciousness itself, the fact that somewhere in life, an animal developed the ability to make reality into something that, in its effulgence, starts to take on some of the radiance and obscurity of a world. Another set of thinkers attempt to oppose Hegel’s idea of reality (historical, temporal, material reality) as the unfolding of a continuous revelation with the idea of a singular revelation that provides the sense of the world. Alongside the theological anti-Hegelianism of Kierkegaard and de Lubac, to the host of thinkers (liberal, Marxist, conservative), many thinkers have either tried to condemn “Hegel” or to save his thought from being traduced from the caricature that would make of him a thinker who turns every disaster into a moment in an economy of revelation— thereby also writing a theodicy that is also a cosmodicy. Of these attempts, the most interesting are within the Marxist tradition— think, on the one hand of Benjamin, Bloch, Adorno, all of whom try to find a different way to think through apocalyptic and Hegelian motifs within a Marxism that would be inured to every kind of theodicy, or on the other hand the Althusserian project to strip even what takes itself for a properly ‘materialist’ Marxist of the traces of Hegelianism that attach to, for example, the idea of alienation and its overcoming…

Regardless of the nuances of these debates which I have just so glibly invoked, the major point here is merely to illustrate how the figure of apocalypse therefore slips the bounds both of Augustine’s cautionary claim about the eschaton (“it ain’t immanent, so it ain’t imminent”—trans. modified) and therefore, across the centuries, boundaries of theology or religion per se, this can be attributed not only to the trivial truth that Christianity, Judaism and Islam were—as undergraduate essays like to say, “somewhat influential”— on the last two millennia and thus leave behind (at least via pseudomorphosis) traces in systems of thought that have attempted to have done with such ideas, the difficulty of delimiting the sense of an apocalypse is already present in the caesura by which the idea of apocalypse ends up conjoining and separating revelation and catastrophe.  To take just one example: if to narrate a catastrophe is potentially to render it apocalyptic (in the sense of revelatory) because something is supposed to be revealed at least to the audience or to the reader, even if it is a lesson about the ultimate meaninglessness of that with which we might desperately want to assign some meaning, this same revelatory element presumes that something survives the apocalypse in the sense of disaster. Anything short of the final extinction of consciousness holds out the possibility of something that can be revealed in the disaster even if it runs against the ethical horror of testifying where all witnesses have been eliminated. (C.f. Agamben passim, but also the third and fourth parts of Bolaño’s 2666). It is for this reason that the connection between disaster and revelation implied by the word apocalypse can seem delusional where it does not seem like a moral obscenity: the assignation of meaning of narrative, perhaps especially when it succeeds at consoling or edifying looks like the kind of extractive opportunism that compounds what is already a spectacular horror with a more pedestrian one of weighing costs and benefits so as to be better wrench the senseless into the form of sense and sense into narrative. And, yet, even in the face of such a danger, to fail to analyse and seek the (true) causes of catastrophe, to render a catastrophe “ineffable” is a renunciation of thought and a genuflection to some (usually tediously ideological) obscurantism. In the light of this, the figure of “apocalypse” both attracts and repulses: we want something to come out of horrors, plagues, wars: some lesson, some truth, some ghost of a chance for something that might emerge that is antithetical to the circumstances from which the disaster was born. We find something like this, for example, even in a text whose materialism and principled refusal to turn anything in nature into providence makes it obviously anti-apocalyptic: namely, Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura. When Lucretius narrates the plague in Athens, we see how the disaster caused by natural processes is made infinitely worse by the way that the victims of the plague neither know nor seek the true causes of things and are thus, in their suffering, in their seeking for signs of an obscure providence or ways to appease the gods , capable of murder, of profaning everything that they had previously deemed sacred, of giving way to a madness born of fear and ignorance. The plague in its Lucretian form is certainly a disaster, but it is not an apocalypse. For the reader of the poem, however, the situation is different. This is because the poem shows us that the disaster per se reveals nothing, even while its narration bequeaths to its disaster the role of revealing a fundamental truth about the way superstition and ignorance make horror out of disaster. As such, especially in the form of the neo-Epicureanism of the 17th century, the idea of an Enlightenment is a kind of counter-apocalyptic—the idea of seizing the revelatory powers of apocalypse related to divine dispensation, fate or providence and giving this power back to human beings and the project of rational comprehension of reality. This leads, however, to a caution and a kind of impasse of apocalypse and the critique of apocalypse: if the impulse to make catastrophe signify can be a means of its occultation, the impulse to say, as Donald Rumsfeld did in response to early criticisms of the War on Iraq, that “stuff [just] happens”, that nothing is revealed by this—nothing to see here, people, move along is perhaps equally obviously something that can end up being put into the service of Planned Obfuscation. To put this another way, both the endless variations of apocalyptic discourse and  anti-apocalyptic positivism can belong (and historically have belonged) to the arcana imperii. Both tendencies have been placed in the service of oppression just as both have played a role the history of emancipatory-egalitarian thought and praxis. For all that separates Thomas Münzer and Spinoza (the one an apocalyptic thinker and the other resolutely anti-apocalyptic) they belong to the same side when pitted against, say, Leibniz and Locke.

3. An Obscure Apocalypse?

I’ve been thinking, over the last year, about apocalypses, specifically, about the possibility -- contradictory as this sounds – of an obscure apocalypse. What I have in mind is a contemporary dispensation, something everywhere apparent, but mostly unnamed whereby disaster (recent, imminent or as part of a relentless succession) seems to be stripped of any possible revelatory function such that its public or political implication are somehow pre-emptively aborted. An obscure apocalypse would be one in which the disaster (or a mounting series of disaster) somehow culminates, against the ideal-type of the narrative I outlined earlier, in a whimper, a whimper moreover that obsessively repeats that it is very important to uphold the status quo and to return to it as quickly as possible if anything should seem to force upon us the slightest deviation from “business as usual”.  According to the logic of this obfuscation, the shocks and crises that capitalism inevitably generates multiply, but the point of judgement or decision that the word crisis (Gr: krisis) implies is deferred such that any possible implications of the last crisis, despite being briefly acknowledged as such is deferred to and thus absorbed into the spectacle of its (imminent) successor. The obscure apocalypse is, thus, among other things, a consequence of a kind of succession of emergencies occurring in the cultivated absence of any conceptual or political grammar that might (as Agamben has said for decades) allow a succession and intensification of emergencies to be distinguished from a norm.

If what I’m calling the tendency to obscure apocalypse exists, it is, trivially, something that can be traced to the contemporary hyper-capitalism whose logic has governed the planet for at least fifty years and the complex mechanisms by which this system assures its self-reproduction. While we will try to give an account of how and why this has occurred, for the moment it is enough to emphasise that something in our current form of government, that is, in our contemporary economy, seems to have found a way to take the revelatory force of events (even and especially the entirely avoidable catastrophes of its own making) and to smother this in the pervasive tele-technical noise that forms the luminous foreground and obscure backgrounds of societies reduced to aggregates of consumers which exist for evanescent periods as voters for supine parliaments or as targets for police violence in protests, in what, significantly go by the name of demonstrations. In an obscure apocalypse, the disasters mount, but their capacity to serve as an index to their own causes is somehow aborted. Demonstrations occur, but even when they are not put down with brutal state violence, what they demonstrate can be safely ignored by States which still announce themselves to serve and to respond to the obscure figure of “the people” and its occasional claims to manifest itself. One factor that contributes to this impossibility of revelation, this perpetual containment operation to ensure a priori the impossibility of any event as anything other than a component of an eternal and soon-to-be-forgotten media spectacle, is the way in which so much of what could be exposed in and through the latest catastrophe is often something that has been exposed by the previous catastrophe, including the great catastrophe that Benjamin rightly noted consists of things simply going on as they are, continuing in their current direction. But if revelation stalls because it finds itself in the strange position of only ever revealing what already stands revealed, we find ourselves on the edges of a paradox whereby our time seems marked by an obfuscation that seem all the more powerful insofar as it proceeds by way of what purports to be the presentation of everything as already naked, raw, and unfiltered. In the light of this, we can find a first determination of our central concept: An obscure (obscurantist) apocalypse is, in one sense, an artefact of a pornographic epistemology. By pornographic, I mean something that is obviously confected, distorting (and born of exploitation), but which nonetheless depicts itself as a truth laid bare, as what exists beyond all veils or masks. But what if every claim to reveal everything, to display the naked truth were simply the typical ruse of the most desultory simulations? The irony of an age that believes it has got down to the naked truth of things (that believes that we now, for the first time, understand the real as opposed to the merely possible, that we are inured to utopian delusions, have awoken from the nightmare of history, that we have a kind possess a kind of privileged intimacy with the real by virtue of the variety of our commodity-production or the speed of our internet connections) is, as has been noted elsewhere, obviously, and not accidentally, a belief whose moment coincides with what is otherwise a general reign of simulacra whose pre-condition is the link between the privatisation of everything public and the concomitant  perverse publicization of what has hitherto been private. If the doxa that reality is already known and mastered is one of the causes of a sense that nothing can be revealed, this doxa is also a consequence of the fact that the conditions of life-in-common (everything from seeking friendship, love, employment, vaccination from disease, education) are in the hands of private companies that exist for the individual enrichment of their shareholders. If the ownership of the means of production is, more than ever, the dominant factor in the shaping of our societies, the obscure apocalypse is a consequence of the private ownership of the means of revelation. It is one thing to own a factory, but quite another to have the capacity to make rent out of something like the “social” interactions that take place in lieu of the annihilation and disavowal of societies, the intersubjective space where individuals go to find (via relationship with others) some way to confirm their individual and common existence, the narratives that give form to experience, the institutions that tattoo bodies and psyches with the mark of a particular social-Symbolic Order…and a few off-shore factories just for good measure. In such a universe, the platform is the message.  And the message of the platform is that nothing exists until it has first acquired something of the dignity of a commodity, has participated in the forms of a commodified representation. In the light of this, one reason that even our apocalypses are obscure, is that if a commodified representation becomes the measure of reality, everything that seems to operate at some distance from this logic of the commodity seems increasingly unreal. The obscure apocalypse is, ultimately, nothing more than the advance of this creeping unreality into the space of crises, disasters and (real) events.


A confession: if this idea of an obscurantist apocalypse is anything at all, it is something purloined from the annals of melancholia and depression. At a time when the phenomenon we know by the latter name has been at plague proportions in the post-industrial nations of the imperial core—this was true prior to the lockdowns that have made this plague both more obvious and more virulent—to draw from these archives of this nigh-on ubiquitous condition surely requires only a cursory apology. But if there is one thing that anyone familiar with this condition knows and fears, it is something that happens in the dangerous nadir-phase of this condition. There is a moment in depression where the anchor to sense and to signification that is retained in even the bitterest grief comes unstuck. Here, the horror or sorrow at anything particular (the irrevocable loss, the irreparable tragedy) turns into something like a horror at consciousness and its embodiment, a nausea at the mere ineluctable continuation of consciousness and its ineluctable ipseity which has become odious not with respect to any particular “content” of consciousness but rather for the brute fact of its existence – the psychic equivalent of a hatred of respiration. At this lowest point, a terrible levelling occurs by way of a sort of parody of the “free-play of the faculties” by which Kant describes the mind summoned to itself by the beautiful. Desire and perception, memory and anticipation, fear and hope collapse into the same stupefied mulch of indistinction. Outside of this state, the line between the imminent realisation of our worst fears and our most ardent desires, the spectacle of something gorgeous and something utterly repugnant is bright, sharp, and feels important. Such distinctions allow us to distinguish and to measure our highs and lows, good days and bad. At the heart of melancholia, however, such distinctions collapse. Everything is as if absorbed into an indifferent One-All that at the same time elicits a sadistic and ceaseless reproach (presumably by the now all-conquering super-ego) for its unremitting and somehow despicable homogeneity. In this darkest phase of something already defined by darkness, the fact that consciousness continues, that something is continually revealed to perception and to thought, seems to reveal and to signify nothing except its own disastrous (because unbearable) continuation. In melancholia, it is as if revelation as manifestation (a term of phenomenology rather than theology), rather than anything in particular that is manifested, becomes hateful and oppressive. Certainly, we can see melancholia, as Freud does, as a failure of mourning, as a state when the “shadow of the [lost] object” falls upon the ego, in which the ego dies to the world, so that the object’s loss through death or unreality can be deferred. Insofar as melancholia invariably involves a certain loss of the world and a self lost to the world, however, the contents of consciousness, the constant effulgence of reality in its procession of objects and meanings doesn’t cease (how does one stop the soul’s own version of respiration?). Instead, the bright procession of reality is distorted as if through a fog: events continue to happen, but as if drowned in what should be the logically impossible admixture of indifference and anguish. It as if what Husserl ascribed to “internal time-consciousness”, the retention of the past and anticipation of the future in every moment that allows the continuous flow of experience, had itself, at the level of its very form, become saturated by a seemingly ineluctable suffering such that the world is detached from its sense and sense form everything that could coalesce into a world.

If there is, as I am suggesting, a social equivalent to this moment of melancholia, it would be one in which the events that punctuate our lives and “our” societies would be somehow pre-absorbed into a senseless and indifferent procession of happenings, such that while things continue to happen, their significance and ultimately their very occurrence would be somehow annulled even as they unfolded. The obscurantist apocalypse is this social analogue; it both imitates and exacerbates melancholic distress because it is a name for a situation in which everything that seems to carry the seeds of a possible revelation, an event, a possible transformation of our ways of thinking, living, uncovering reality becomes—to steal from the Communist Manifesto—antiquated before it can ossify. What an enduring narrative logic tells us must surely this time, culminate in a reckoning, a change, a putting on trial of those responsible, is deferred to the next revelation, the next crisis or disaster which then repeats the same pattern, without, for all this, eliminating the hope of another revelation that—perhaps this time! — would be infectious [sic], galvanising, consequential. In this sense, an epoch of obscure apocalypse, points to a truth— with which we are already familiar from everyday life—namely that melancholia and what the late Lauren Berlant called cruel optimism are far from incompatible. The obscure apocalypse is, among other things, a name for that which sutures an incessant and debilitating form of optimism (“sure, this is intolerable, but if we just worked harder, if we put up the right candidate, if the ruling class were forced to attend classes in applied ethics or cultural sensitivity training) that serves as the gossamer-thin but ubiquitous veneer over something whose fundamental structure is melancholic. It is frenzied activity and declarations of hope and change as the face of a system that nonetheless ensures that nothing can happen, because the distinction between an event and a non-event is stuck in the perverse paraconsistency of commodification whereby, on the one hand, every commodity, every new brand or entirely predictable incident of corruption is announced as a world-historical singularity, even as such ceaseless declaration of novelty (news!) turns every real singularity and real crisis into another point in a media cycle which is destined to rapidly fall into the oblivion of yesterday.

IV. Nothing to Declare but your “Freedoms”

What is worth noting here is the extent to which the phenomenon of obscure apocalypse recalls— because it is, in fact, transparently an artefact of— an essentially liberal position in political philosophy. As is well known, the term “liberal” in contemporary, everyday British and US usage runs a semantic-historical gauntlet between three (inter-related) meanings that attest to both different political epochs and different understandings of what is at stake in politics. As such, the term cannot fail to evoke an historical, if internally contested body of political (or anti-political) thought that underwrites the different senses which it has in everyday use. With regards to the latter, we can draw out three primary senses in which the word is used today 1) (mostly in relation to past centuries) a political position that demands that limits be set to the rights of sovereigns over their subjects, which entails a rejection of Absolutism and feudal privileges and which frequently attempts to ground its principles through invocations of the natural rights of the aforementioned subjects. 2) a political philosophy and indeed a political program geared towards staving off the perceived evils of democracy in a future or extant republic by a) limiting and dividing the powers of government and especially, by securing the sanctity of property and thus (with varying degrees of explicitness) the inviolable status or political significance of the propertied classes. Etymologically, the word “proper” means “that which is one’s own”; the property of an individual staring with one’s own body is considered (via a legal tradition that exists long before the revolutions of the 18th century or the rise of the modern nation-state) the basis for all rights and that which a legitimate or just political constitution is supposed to protect. The dominance of liberal constitutions and the existence of “liberal” polities then leads to the third sense of the term which is closest to contemporary American usage (“3”) where liberalism refers to a vague set of mostly moral attitudes that contrast with alternative political-ethical positions within the politics of an already constituted liberal polity.

According to this third sense of the word, liberalism is a position devoted to (non-revolutionary) progress in ways that are vaguely defined, but that frequently centres on the idea of expanding the domain of rights and granting rights to those hitherto unjustly excluded from the domain of what purports to be the rights of all. For this kind of liberal, what matters is something like the expansion (today, increasingly, relying on a milquetoast and disavowed idea of providence) of justice and liberty from the exclusive province of the privileged few to the marginal and dispossessed.

On a Marxist reading, these prima facie distinct connotations of liberalism belie a shared essence, that is essentially given in the second of the three forms given above. Liberalism, for Marx, is essentially a political ideology that is ultimately devoted to defending the rights of property (“bourgeois right”) at all costs. This does not mean that it is devoted to protecting the property of any particular individual, say, a lord with regards to his family estates. Instead, what is rendered sacrosanct is not the property of the individual, but the wildly tempestuous and dynamic (“all that is solid melts into air”) economic system which has private property as its basis. Within this system the protection of property is at once sacrosanct and a mere moment in a system whose ultimate character comes from its unchanging fundamental telos: the transformation of wealth into more wealth at the cost of the exploitation and immiseration of the majority of human beings. In light of this, the fact that all kinds of liberals from a right-libertarian to a left-liberal can happily assent to the idea that “no individual should be arbitrarily murdered or assaulted, that slavery (today) is an abomination, that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of race or gender”, therefore, belies the fact that one can, on equally liberal premises, mount arguments about Southern plantation owners deserving to keep their slaves who are the property: “no-one has the right to take away our slaves, who are our property”. If today, this position is, after a long history of political struggles that connects Toussaint L’ouverture to Fred Hampton, almost universally considered abhorrent, this is a result not of some intrinsic virtue of liberalism, but rather of the influence of struggles that operated on the basis of principles opposed to both the reality and the ideal of liberalism. Thus, while we might rely, today, on the progressive liberal to condemn slavery and racism, the Marxist insight into the primacy of property in liberal thought and broader Marxist scepticism about liberalism (Marx’s fondness for Anatole France’s quip about the rich and the poor man both having the same right to sleep under a bridge), we can still observe that even (soi-disant) “progressive” liberalisms will embrace the idea that while they might abhor poverty and exploitation nothing is more dangerous than an attempt to reform, let alone to overthrow, an economic system which secures property and the reproduction of the privileges of the propertied classes, because this risks the liberty of individuals. For the well-meaning left-liberal, the monstrous evil of slavery (or its modern disavowed forms) can be dismissed as a stain on an older liberalism, as a relic of a time of insufficient “progress” that we have safely moved past or it can be considered simply an outgrowth of an inveterate and perhaps immemorial racism that liberalism is now, finally, in a position to oppose via the humanity and compassion of a more enlightened generation of CEOs, entrepreneurs and Ivy League HR departments.  This, of course, is to ignore what the historical record shows about the ways in which racism— that most appalling and idiotic ideology in the still unbroken human history of both ideology and idiocy was deliberately confected as an ex-post facto justification for the already extant and monstrously profitable Atlantic slave trade. That the abominable indenture of human beings as no more than property to be abused reached its zenith under the auspices of liberal, bourgeois, commercial societies for whose benefit its institutionalisation was constructed is not, as the self-serving tribunes of digital liberalism suggest, testimony to the primarily moral failings of past epochs that we have now safely moved passed by dint of compassion and education. It is instead something that testifies to the fact that, then and now, the fact that liberalism with its ideals of freedom and progress for all has never ceased to declare exceptions to this “all” when profits are to be made, never shied away from making a mockery of its much vaunted (but hopelessly abstract) ideas and inventing grandiose self-justifications later. Of course, the fact that whole rebarbative ideological mulch of racist thought from the seventeenth century to our own time is essentially a concoction, something whose least important role was as a sop to the conscience of those already engaged in the process of expanding nakedly exploitative human relations to the corners of the earth, does not mean that it did not become by itself a cause of further immiseration, degradation, oppression and injustice. Nonetheless, the history of racism cannot be dissociated from the history of not only colonialism but of imperialism. The latter is and has never ceased to be the foundation of European-US economic hegemony and of the wealth of its settler-colonial outposts in places like Australia and Israel. But as long as neo-imperialism exists, racism follows, first as something built into structures and only later and derivatively in odious attitudes and expressions.  In any case, in the end, the history of imperialism, which admittedly I have only invoked without explicating, teaches us one lesson: wherever high-minded or moral-sounding liberal principles have come up against the economic basis of liberalism those principles have been revealed to be so much straw. In the light of this history (or, as Badiou says, the continuation of this pre-history of humanity), I would submit that, today, it is necessary to think of the battle between right-wing libertarianism/various brands of nouveau [sic] neo-reactionaries, technocratic centrism and the progressive liberalism that deplores the former and makes constant common cause with the latter as essentially a essentially a family squabble essentially about which face to put on the continuing subsumption of everything that exists to the imperatives of the market and the neutralising of anything that looks like universalist, egalitarian, anti-imperialist (i.e. meaningfully anti-racist) politics. It will be objected, of course, that even where this does not result in a “beautiful soul” like politics of purity that scorns everything in the real world for the light of a transcendent idea, such a “plague on all houses” attitude risks blurring important distinctions at a time when liberal societies are under threat from resurgent far-right movements as recent years have shown in Hungary, Brazil, Turkey and in so-called “populist” right-wing movements in Britain, the US and Australia. If we concede, so this argument runs, that liberal societies presided over and justified the moral abomination of slavery and the continued pillaging of half the planet, that liberals have and continue to crush egalitarian and emancipatory movements in hundreds of places throughout the world over the last two centuries, this should not, it will be said, blind us to the dangers of something even worse: liberal parliamentary capitalism’s superiority to genocidal fascism of the sort whose reactionary anti-liberalism hardly spared it from committing crimes which make those of liberalism (even as accounted by something as sober-minded as Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History) insignificant by comparison.

Responding to such questions will require a return to the topic of revelation and disaster. For the moment, however, I will note that, at least one part of the accusation is trivially true. Certainly, fascism must be regarded as a greater enemy to any communist or even socialist project rather than the liberal status quo. At the same time, however, the trivial truth of this should not blind us to the fact that this appeal to the worst plays an integral role in a disastrous form of political accommodation whereby increasingly brutal, plutocratic, explicitly anti-socialist and kakistocratic liberalism continually ends up doing the work of the political right while at the same time offering itself as both the humane face of capitalism and the only alternative to something far worse. The logic of this political sophism cum moral blackmail should be brutally familiar for the last forty-years. When, after all, since the time of Thatcher and Reagan has an entity as deeply allied to the interests of capital as the US Democratic Party (or the increasingly neo-liberal British Labour/Australian Labor Party) not taken the opportunity to excuse its own desultoriness and corruption via an appeal (especially during election years) to a Popular Front against what the Internet calls “literal” fascism, to some dystopia that would be created by the right ? But whether and to what extent one thinks this danger from the right is real in any given situation, it cannot be denied that such arguments have again and again allowed the “left” party of capital to implement and naturalise the very political and economic agendas that, in previous electoral cycles, this same liberal-left portrayed as a monstrous danger. Whether it is a matter of supporting murderous imperialist wars, extra-judicial surveillance, the crushing of any power of organised labour, the destruction of the State as a provider of social services (let alone as something oriented by any common political project or Idea) alongside the incessant expansion of its repressive apparatus, the growing out-sourcing of all decision-making power in any sector of the economy to a managerial class, continuing rapacious neo-imperialist exploitation of two-thirds of the planet., the parliamentary left have proven themselves the merely dilatory prosecutors of right-wing agendas which, for a brief moment every four  years, they declare intolerable. To be clear: there is neither a moral nor a political conundrum here: it is perfectly possible and should not be the occasion for the slightest anguish to oppose both resurgent neo-fascism and the milquetoast, technocratic, “meritocratic” liberalism whose obvious complicity with corruption elevated to the status of a transcendental norm (c.f. Badiou on, for instance, Sarkozy) consistently fuels and emboldens the free-floating resentments that the far right are always poised to direct towards their own atavistic goals. To accept the moral blackmail whereby the continuation of the neo-liberal status quo is the only possible bulwark against the former is to drink the stale Kool Aid of contemporary pseudo-politics, that is to buy into the self-conception of a managerial and political elite so used to sacrificing its principles to the interests of business and markets that its only remaining virtue is its vaunted status as Not Quite (or Not Yet) fascism. For the centrist or left-liberal, every threat from the right is a full-regalia revival of 20th century National Socialism. But even where a fascist threat is genuine (and not simply confected out of a narcissism-of-small differences conflict between graduates of the same class at Cambridge or at Yale), the question of what emboldens, what allows for the rise of such political (in fact, anti-political trends) is never something that will leave the often compassionate, decent, well-spoken, “science-loving” shibboleth pronouncing, liberal managerialism with hands that aren’t covered in the blood of Iraqis or Syrians, Nicaraguans or Haitians, Cubans or Mexicans. To the liberal “fascism” is the opposite of liberalism; the dignity of liberalism consists, as I’ve said, in increasingly nothing but this negative sign. But for anyone sane, for any Marxism, fascism is the outgrowth and reaction to liberalism’s failure, something born of it and nurtured by it.

But what does this political divagation have to do with the apocalypse? Of all the contradictions of liberalism, none is perhaps more central than what we can call, for want of a better term, liberalism’s Hobbesian shadow. By this term, I mean the well-known fact that while liberalism qua liberalism is (ostensibly) committed to individual liberties, the liberal tradition has never ceased to be willing to suspend its ostensible devotion to individual rights in the name of safety and security. In addition, just as the kind of right-wing libertarian who considers progressive taxation analogous to physical assault, will consistently support police violence against left-wing demonstrators and grotesque military budgets, the Victorian aspiration towards elite benevolence that is the hallmark of contemporary US “progressives” is one ostensible threat to public safety away from writing elegies for State power.  If, as I said earlier, the obscure apocalypse follows the logic of liberal thought, it is because the liberal obsession with security and, in particular, with the security of the order that protects and allows for the expansion of wealth, has always been about ensuring that nothing can threaten this status quo. If, today, neither a recent, nor current, nor imminent catastrophe can appear to presage or necessitate a radical break with our current global economic stasis (in the sense of both a state of being frozen and a state of civil war), this is surely because, some forty years later the elevation of neo-liberalism to the status of something like the law of gravity along with the assiduously cultivated amnesia about every political struggle between 1792 and 1976, has led even the rich countries of the imperial heartlands to move ever closer towards the non-existence of society. Thatcher’s famous remark on this topic has to be understood not as a perverse and false empirical observation, but instead as both a prophecy and as a statement of intent. If society does not exist, the force of any revelation is, like so many things today, essentially privatised. A privatisation of reality, of course, cannot fail to lead to something like the generalisation of melancholic stupor (where it does not simply lead to forms of collective psychosis.) Here, I do not mean merely that reality becomes depressing (although this is true), nor that incidences of subjective depression increase and will continue to do so (although this is also true). I mean, instead, that the fact that every disaster has to, in effect, be rendered inconsequential even as it is unfolding exacerbates the social atomisation and delirium from which our obscurantist apocalypse is born.

5. Conclusion: Our Plague Diary and other Aborted Revelations

Writing this from (to employ a storied Antipodeanism) the arse-end of 2021, this penultimate month of Year II of the Crown-Virus, it occurs to me that my original brief was to say something about the plague. But while there is much to say  about these two years in which a global pandemic has killed over five million people (some of the most incisive analyses have been given on this very blog by, to single out only two writers, Daniel Ross and Serene Richards), my own, perhaps perverse, certainly elliptical approach has been to try to find a name for something that both obviously predates the pandemic, but which I think has sucked these still unfolding events into its vacuum. To make this explicit: for those of us who will have lived through these past two years, we have witnessed the pandemic stripped in real time by our ruling class of any possible significance that does not already conform to the Worstward trend of the ruling consensus. This claim, I admit, may seem initially tendentious. On the one hand, of course, the pandemic has led to things that seem without precedent: the virtual confinement of whole populations, the closure of international borders, the rollout of vaccine passports. But what remains with me, along with the deaths, the security measures, the opportunism of syncretic far-right coalitions trying to take advantage of understandable discontent with lockdown, the already obvious social inequalities brought even more starkly into the light between the class of people who could “work from home” and those whose jobs required them to venture into an environment considered too dangerous for the population at large, has been the increasing sense that this disaster—despite the extraordinary emergency measures invoked by governments to manage the crisis—has, just like the financial crisis of 2008, the twenty years of the War on Terror, even the Trump Presidency from 2016-2020 undergone a process that starts in a blaze of mediatic obscurity and ends with the idea that whatever this is and whatever has gone in its wake, this has no implications whatsoever for the status quo. By the latter, I mean, of course, the global economic system which shapes the lives of every human being on the planet. But what is now held out to us as a promise is that as soon as we have ridden out this latest emergency, we can all return to normal. “Normality”, it should go without saying, means a return to what we have been doing, in other words, to everything that has made the pandemic qua pandemic (read Daniel Ross’s article on this) avoidable. In saying this, of course, I am not moralising. Like many people, I have longed, in the oneiric, timeless, stultifying universe of long lockdowns for interactions with other human beings without the mediation of screens or wireless connections, for small and taken for granted comforts of meeting friends in places that still resound with the emanations of spontaneous human interaction. Nonetheless, when I speak of the pandemic in terms of an obscure apocalypse, I recall the early days of the pandemic, where some voices on the left spoke, as such times can understandably cause us to speak, of how this, as Naomi Klein said of climate change, changes everything, about how we could no longer ignore the deep interconnectedness of the world, of humanity, the imbrication and dependence of human societies on non-human nature, the need to make societies that have all of humanity as its citizens, because what affects one nation will affect another and that our crises and disasters affect everyone (without, of course, affecting everyone equally). In speaking about an obscure and indeed obscurantist apocalypse, I want to draw attention to the complicated mechanisms in place that turn everything that we can no longer ignore into something that will have been ignored through the next catastrophe and the next, something that will make the statement “we will return to normal” follow closely upon the heels of “we cannot, in the face of this, ever ‘return to normal’ .  In saying all of this, my intention, has not been to counsel despair, if for no other reason than despair today hardly needs advocates. What I would say instead is that the means of revelation do not, at present, belong to universal humanity, but to institutions, systems and ideologies whose goal is to make sure that nothing should interrupt the flow of capital, even temporarily, not even emergency measures that may seem, for a time, to break with the logic of the market. This is, in many ways, an obvious point. But in discussing this topic, I wanted also to try to name, via analogy with melancholia, something of the cause of a kind of growing despair, which I think particularly afflicts the brightest and the most clear-sighted among the young. To have lived to see your forties or fifties at this time, is to have already witnessed if not to have lived through multiple catastrophes that should have caused a rupture in the way we live, work, think and value. It is to have seen each of these catastrophes consigned, even where they were not actively denied, to the terrible status of being as if they signified nothing. What reckoning have the criminals whose actions led to the deaths of millions of Iraqis ever faced? What of the architects of the Global Financial Crisis? When does the continuing disaster of the world that tried to forever bury the memory of revolutionary movements of the 1970s and every egalitarian movement before that, ever admitted to its obvious and self-serving vacuity, its absence of a plan, its incapability of holding back the catastrophes of its own making? To endure this hurried shuttling of the present into the past and the past into an eternal oblivion whose progressive apogee (by contrast) is the present exacts a psychic toll. But to be of an age to have always lived among the mechanisms devoted to ensuring that the future will be annulled before it arrived, to have grown up with the obscure apocalypse as part of the rhythm of a life endlessly mediated by the digital universe that is its servant is to have been constantly pulverised by this sense that everything your intuition and your intelligence reveals to you is somehow less than nothing, that the world will continue on its course to the point of extinction. If there is a place to look for alternatives to this world, my last word on this today will simply be to say that, even where we cannot seize the means of revelation, we can de-suture ourselves from the media cycles that proclaim an urgency to everything only for the urgent to be nullified by the next effect of Great Importance. I am not talking, of course, simply of bourgeois retreats from the digital or “taking breaks” from social media use in the name of self-care. The gospel of individual “wellness” needs public prosecutors more than it needs more evangelists. But instead of a more basic truth that, today, we should assume that any real revelation of reality must occur at a distance from the media-managerial-parliamentary-NGO-focus-group-marketing complex that governs the structure of appearance, a structure which will turn even a planetary apocalypse into something that serves the greater obfuscation. We have no choice but to live in the world as it is, and to change the world requires clearly requires us to draw on something immanent to the historical conjuncture in which we find ourselves. But the world is larger than the ways in which it is counted and calculated. Its truth is defined by another order of visibility to that of the obscure apocalypse. To oppose this system, to remain opposed to what presents itself as fundamentally and eternally unopposable in this world requires a wandering through other places which draw their light from sources other than those that bring about the tawdry radiance of contemporary consumer capitalism and its overpaid apologists, aspirational platitude-mongers, its evanescent pseudo-events elevated to the status of emergencies and emergencies turned into dimly remembered antiquities even while the memory of them still burns in subject populations. The archive of the world’s history and the history of thought are open to us and there are many, young and old who will continue to search among the rubble for roads not taken, for truth, for past victories and past defeats that may hold the key to other forms of life than those to which we have been subjected and through which we have been subjectivised.  The apocalypse, of course, as has been said elsewhere, can be seen as a perversely comforting figure: it imparts an urgency to our times, by virtue of the narrative closure implied by time’s ending. It promises restitution and punishment. But if what I have argued is true, we live in an age in which every anticipated apocalypse, even an actual, sentience-ending catastrophe is aborted as regards it having any implication for breaking with our present way of organising life and bestowing value. Which is another way of saying that the disasters will continue and that their implications will be aborted even as their consequences are felt everywhere. But there are other ways by which reality can be revealed, things that come out of collaboration and solidarity with other people from other places, from the memory of distant struggles, from ideas seemingly lost to time. A voyage through such places and times will not, of course, by itself put an end to obfuscation, which, in the end, only an epiphenomenon of the way that an economic relationship to life and law finds ways to perpetuate itself. But there are other ways of seeing without the light given by the present. There are archives that preserve against the aforementioned oblivion that which preceded or opposed the cultivated obfuscations of our epoch. In the end, there must be a break with any anticipation that disaster will deliver us or reveal something to us. Such anticipation sutures us to the obscurantism of our current apocalypse. But if there is nothing that we need to wait for disaster to show to us, if the disaster has already happened, then we can ignore, or at least allow ourselves a certain distance from the false revelators that help constitute the capitalist division of time and history. Our eyes will adjust to the dark.

Mailing List Subscribe

To keep up to date with MSCP activities and local philosophy related events, please subscribe to our mailing list

The MSCP only uses these details for the mailing list. We will not pass your details on to anyone.