what is the exact nature of the catastrophe ?

Where would you look if you didn’t want to write a classic post-industrial disaster? Obviously ask the question above. But even that would have to be a new question, framed out of the understanding that, as far as Cassandra is concerned, the disaster is that which has always already happened. What sort of disaster are we in? What sort of metaphors does it cause us to seek? (Are we able to seek anything but the appropriate metaphors? Are we already on rails with this?) Wyndham voiced so clearly the slow disaster of the English middle classes in the across-the-war period, from the invention of the BBC to the reinvention of the bureaucracy, the loss of India to the invention of the hydrogen bomb. Who’s doing that for our sad bankers? What does their disaster–not yet risen to consciousness but still, surely, fully known to them–feel like? Is it possible to describe a post-economic melancholy? What would be the landscape indices of that? Of the collapse of the corporate management class which has already begun to happen but which will be visible to them only in hindsight? What are the false catastrophic indices, which must be lying about in numbers like a kind of dereliction themselves? — remains of old disasters much the same as the remains of old futures, which we might greet by saying, Bored with that, bored with that, that won’t do it? If The Day of the Triffids was, at base, a book about John Wyndham’s extraordinary act of self-reinvention–the almost-blinded man who wakes one morning to find he can see & everyone else can’t, the utter wet dream of the sci-fi Cassandra–& if he was the perfect candidate for the job–whose self-reinvention can we expect here? I’m ready with the laurel wreath.

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Filed under predicting the present, science fiction

7 responses to “what is the exact nature of the catastrophe ?

  1. When Hollywood does it, there’ll be an ex-banker who turns out to be a natural carpenter, or a financial journalist who’s a competent hunter, both useful skills in a destroyed world. But why should catastrophes or disasters always have to be fresh? Perhaps there’s a warehouse of used or temporarily abandoned ones out in the Edgelands, a little tarnished but still in good working order.

  2. uzwi

    >>why should catastrophes or disasters always have to be fresh?

    Because they’re animations of the deep anxieties of their time, & in the UK the age of Edgelands (post-industrial, post-Imperial melancholy), which was an anxiety of modernism/postmodernism, is giving way to something different, which needs to be voiced before we can perceive it, let alone engage with it ? That was the service Wyndham provided for the English middle classes after WW2. Since then, everyone’s kind of expected the disaster story to reiterate those same old warnings, make the same old metaphors. That turns it into an empty genre.

    There’s a lot of irony in my post, but it’s an honest question too.

  3. Brendan

    The only true disaster, the only thing that anybody’s afraid of anymore, is this: first world nations’ standard of living, political power, & cultural impact slowly decline to match those of everybody else. History exists and we don’t get to create our own narrative. This is going to happen anyway. Any metaphor offers only escapism. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the end of our cultural heyday was also the end of the world?’ etc.

  4. I suppose it’s the pervasive sense that the peak has been passed and only decline remains. This is, we read, the time of the first generation that takes it as read that they will be worse off, lead lives poorer in every respect, than their parents. Perhaps that sounds mild, but I reckon it is deeply chilling to whatever one imagines the soul to be. At the risk of seeming to butter up the host, I think it’s the advent of Viriconium.

  5. I think catastrophe, from a subjective perspective at least, is when one finds the world transformed in such a way that one can no longer thrive in it with one’s existing skillset. It’s about the rules of the game changing, and the struggle to figure out the new rules. I guess part of it is also about discovering that certain principles or truths hitherto believed to be natural and eternal turn out to have been contingent, and no longer valid. This could apply to principles of acceptable behaviour, conditions of trade, or relative value of objects and abilities etc. Perhaps, by extension, a more objective definition is when a change causes this experience for a large number, or majority, of people.

  6. Charlie Cornelius

    Is there not an assumption here that the collapse of this class of people, this way of doing things, this kind of society, would be a catastrophe? Perhaps it is more in the nature of froth from a shaken can of beer. Once the gas has been vented and the froth has been wiped up, we simply sit down with the beer again and enjoy it.

  7. uzwi

    “Is there not an assumption here… ?” Not on my part, Charlie, & I agree with your conclusion. I was more interested in the idea that a class (I don’t really care, for the purposes of the argument, which class it is or when) finds the optimum writer to express its catastrophe; & the further idea that their catastrophe, by the time it’s been expressed, is almost by definition already over. Then I wondered impishly if that might be true of the bankers & corporates & today’s middle class; & who we might expect to metaphorise it in a disaster film or novel. Did Monsters begin to serve that sort of purpose ? I thought it did. Whereas 28 Days just seemed like a generic disaster story.