‘What would we have done’, not, ‘What is to be done’

I keep coming back to these three posts by Mark Fisher: Atwood’s anti-capitalism, Atwood response and Post-Apocalypse now.

“Ultimately, (Atwood’s) The Year Of The Flood feels like a symptom of the libidinal and symbolic impasses of so much so-called anti-capitalism. Atwood imagines the end of capitalism, but only after the end of the world.”(from Atwood’s anti-capitalism)

Why do we so easily relish the idea of apocalypse: as the ultimate cleansing field, the restoration to an authentic Real? With or without us humans, we still imagine the end of the world as some sort of natures retort to all our bad doings. We idealize Nature as fundamental chaos, but the word “fundamental” plays an important role here, since in this fundamentality we frame nature’s chaos within the limit of itself, as if nature is the ultimate order upon its own chaos. With this fundamentalization of chaos we define natures anthology as a limited realm. If we consider being a presentation (“what presents itself is essentially one”[1]), then following that logic, nature’s chaos must essentially be its characterization, its real. At this point in the process, nature is conditioned by its totality, or its Oneness. But how can we so blindly ignore the deadlock that this thought brings before us; If nature is equated with Oneness, then that must certainly cancel out its potential of becoming more than it is, and consequently, if nature is ceased to be more than it is as we know it, then the idea of apocalypse certainly might seem impossible to imagine. The apocalypse in the case of total Nature takes a fictional character. It becomes an implausible problem in that we can easily fictionalize, but can’t truly fathom it happening. If Nature is totality, then it’s end is so easily envisaged, because in reality, unconsciously we simply can not permit it. We dwell in the perpetual impossibility of the apocalypse.

Now, if we allow the impossibility of the paradox of finite chaotic nature, we must accept that the Oneness of nature is not. “This decision can take no other form than the following; the one is not. It is not a question, however, of abandoning the principle Lacan assigned the symbolic; that there is Oneness. Everything turns on mastering the gap between the presupposition (that must be rejected) of being of the one and the thesis of its ‘there is’. What could there be, which is not? Strictly speaking, it is already too much to say ‘there is Oneness’ because the ‘there, taken as an errant localization, concedes a point of being to the one.”[1] The claim that ‘there is nature’, or, ‘there is an evental apocalypse to come’, is an effect of our idealized and conditioned relation to it. This contradiction maintains the impossibility of an approaching evental apocalypse, and equates it to a mystical totality.

What we need to realize is that if nature is not a totality, then it is not at all, and the ever approaching apocalypse is actually here, and has always been here. Post-apocalyptic thinking is the ontological operation on nature/one that is not.  “What has to be declared is that the one, which is not, solely exists as operation. In other words: there is one, only the count-as-one. The one, being an operation, is never a presentation. It should be taken quite seriously that the ‘one’ is a number. And yet, except if we pythagorize, there is no cause to posit that being qua being is number. Does this mean that being is not multiple either? Strictly speaking, yes, because being is only multiple inasmuch as it occurs in presentation.”[1]

If there is no Nature, and if there is no approaching the apocalypse, then what else could there be?

Here’s the paragraph from Mark Fisher’s Post-Apocalypse now:

“So one tactic is to stop imagining eco-catastrophe and Realise it – which is not to say bring it about, but to act as if it has already happened. This is the intriguing suggestion from Jean-Pierre Dupuy which Zizek takes up, most recently in First As Tragedy, Then As Farce. The only way to prevent the catastrophe, Zizek and Dupuy suggest, is to project ourselves into the post-apocalyptic situation and think what we would have done to have avoided it. In other words, we must act as if what is in fact the case – the inevitability of catastrophe – is the case. The simulation, the as-if, is necessary in part because the Real, here as elsewhere, cannot be confronted directly, and can only emerge in the form of a fiction. The shift to the question of ‘what would we have done’ has the benefit of circumventing the capitalist realist/postmodernist foreclosure of the old modernist-Leninist question, ‘What is to be done.’ An anti-capitalism need not be imagined any more than the end of the world has to be: it is Realized in the encounter with the fictional-virtual-Real of inevitable apocalypse.”

Perhaps if we accept the end of the world now, then the perpetual What is to be done will be rightly replaced with the more urgent and post-apocalyptic, What would we have done. Only after that clearing we might possibly start imagining the end of/alternative to capitalism.


[1] Being and Event, Alain Badiou

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