some other kind of disaster

Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell is a generous, interesting book but it makes me think there’s nothing left to scavenge from the traditional rhetoric of disaster, especially its oppositions. Images of both elite panic & ad hoc mutualism seem historical. They wore out in the 50s & 60s of the last century. I feel the same about The Road. Its issues don’t seem to me to be the issue. They seem to be easy things to think, a waste of the power of the big machine of disaster. I don’t know what the issue is. But I believe more & more that there’s some other kind of disaster ready to be written.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “some other kind of disaster

  1. Chris Lites

    I think the economic “Collapse” is now in vogue, but I suppose you meant something less literal in the way of an “apocalypse.”

  2. Most disaster stories are about inadvertent reversion to “savage” states. But what about progressive disasters, a disaster of too-much-too-fast? “Singularity” stories always seem poised for disaster that doesn’t end but keeps changing, but they never quite get there.

  3. The following seems like something China Miéville [might have] said before, but isn’t the truly scary thing about disaster now that we just keep right on going through it, without acknowledging its existence or bending our usual consumptive patterns?

  4. uzwi

    I don’t know if China’s said it or not, but I certainly agree. It’s one of the things you would have to take account of to make any kind of contemporary use of the disaster.

  5. Daniel del Valle

    Instead of going out with a bang, maybe we’ll go out with a whimper.Most disaster scenarios are apocalyptic, suddden, catastrophic. Our “modern” civilization is in the same state as an alchoholic or junkie, addiction being consumption of natural resources (2050 is the new date of disaster when a scarcity of drinking water will go critical mass.), denying that there is even a problem.

  6. MichaelO

    Because there isn’t, Daniel. These are variations on the calculations of Malthus, never applicable except in smallish horrible ways; I’m always astonished at the lack of imagination behind the global warming panickry. Not denying it, but roses in Nova Zemlya, orchids in Magnetogorsk would be no sorry thing. I love the blank monotony of the taiga, but, fuck, let it bloom…

  7. whiteonesugar

    Disaster opposition rhetoric – great phrase.

    I spend most of my days working with people who seem to think that putting a co2 label on a bag of crisps is a solution to the tsunami of shit consumerism has unleashed.

    Re- read Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Years recently and thinking about the end of empires. The forthcoming disaster is always a worry at the edge of our lives. Communes and survivalists… Current writings just don’t feel right.

  8. uzwi

    To welcome the disaster–on aesthetic or metaphysical grounds, or the grounds of alternate utility or alternate humanity–seems as out of date to me as Solnit’s oppositions. If her concerns were thoroughly worked through by Wyndham in the 50s, “roses in Nova Zemlya” were welcomed & squeezed dry of their valuable contrarian rhetoric by the New Wave in the 60s & 70s. Ballard refined that position to a gesture: after the perfectly seamless “Dream Cargoes” (War Fever, 1990), for example, is there anything left for the Ballardian pataphysics to discover? I sense some more contemporary use of the disaster than that, something that lies in the way we perceive it (both on the ground & in discourse) which suggests it might be a possible new lens for looking at things with. That I can’t articulate this something in an elevator pitch is what makes it so interesting.

    Otherwise I tend to agree with the suggestions of Brendan & whiteonesugar (the nature of the new catastrophe is that it’s unadmitted, low-level & continuous–it’s a condition not an eruption; & “communes & survivalists” are less actually survivalist than revivalist). While my heart, if I have such a thing, sides fully with Daniel del Valle.

  9. Simon

    I’ve always found the personal narratives of the large scale disaster to be the most interesting. Stalinist I suppose: a disaster is a statistic, a personal experience of it a tragedy (or not). But perhaps that’s just the ultimate in narcissism – the world ending is all about MEEEE!.

  10. Simon

    I’m not at all sure what I’m trying to say. This is my constant disaster.

  11. uzwi

    Hi Simon. I remember it being Charles Platt’s position on the disaster novel that it served essentially narcissistic purposes. “Oh God, I’m the only survivor,” is less a cry of despair than of triumph. That late 60s interpretation holds up even better now than it did then. I was fascinated by Thomas Glavinic’s Night Work as a pure engagement with solepsism.

  12. Daniel del Valle

    Disaster sells, its a meme. Once I was watching a National Geographic program about the future with my 11 year old son. It was all about flying cars, longer life spans, and cyborgs. The stuff I was raised on as an adolescent from the TV. I commented to my son that I would probably not see any of those future wonders, that he was privileged in that he would. “No, Dad,” he said. “We’ll probably blow ourselves up, die from some horrible epidemic, or get hit by an asteroid. We’re on the road of the dinosaurs.”

    I thought, “My son doesn’t believe in the future!” Then it sank in.

  13. whiteonesugar

    New Wave – “The nature of the catastrophe” – through Ballard’s lens to a sort of shout, a cry that “this is how it feels in the catastrophe”. But now… The pointless event horizon / neo-messianic singularity obsessives. Soon your TV will be able to print out a replica t-shirt design from the latest tokyo trendsetters! Wow. It really IS the future.

    This is not how things look from here, queuing with the painkiller brigade.

    Good luck, I think this topic suits Viriconium beautifully.

  14. MichaelO

    I grew up in the first golden rot of America’s industrial slump, my boyhood spent breaking into the rust and chrome cicada shell of the abandoned Anaconda factory on the Hudson river, walking the dead rail lines in North Jersey and the accidental corridors between the hundreds of inert carriages in the weedy yards. I’m nostalgic for the traditional diagnostics of disaster.

  15. I think there is an aesthetics of disaster that is comfortably viewed while walking on old rails (love walking rails–did it as a child also), sneaking into old buildings (we use to slide under the wire into an old military base) or the footprints of houses sinking into the upcoming woods. Ballard’s shout of color and sensation is one of my favorite flavors of apocalypse…..but I don’t know if any of these really grasp what it would mean to be terminally homeless in the world.

  16. Simon

    Just read Bruno Schulz’s The Comet – a timely contribution to thoughts on this; global disaster as ecstatic dream overtaken by fashion.

  17. uzwi

    Hi Simon: &–coincidentally enough–see next post…

  18. MichaelO

    Mia, homelessness isn’t a naturally static condition with a single point of view. I once spent two not entirely miserable Bronx winters living out of an old Nova. It got old chiefly because of the inconvenience, but, I’m sure due largely to my youth and access to narcotics, I tended to see the whole thing as a mostly comic adventure. I think the kind of “homelessness” you’re speaking of can occur purely internally regardless of nominal comfort levels. That being said, if I had to return to that state anywhere on the difficult side of forty, I’d probably contemplate a fistful of dilaudid and/or a kind, very sharp knife.