Joff P. N. Bradley
Here several utopian/dystopian thought experiments are proffered to explore the contemporary sheer dread in thinking otherwise than the contemporary unworld as it is.1 With reference to the 2017 BBC drama Hard Sun and the cosmological horror of a world without a sun, what is demonstrated is the contemporary incapacity of thought to think beyond the utopos of the unworld as it is. Hard Sun, an essentially failed science-fiction TV series, is contrasted with the satirical optimism of Gabriel Tarde’s Underground Man, published in 1905, in which a postapocalypse sunless utopia, and with it utopic forms of telluric life, is envisaged under the Earth. Shaping and guiding these considerations are the different philosophical senses of utopia found in Félix Guattari’s and Édouard Glissant’s work and the way these ruminations reveal the limits of the contemporary catastrophic imagination. Put otherwise, to contest the petrification of the world as it is, to manifest a new inhuman image of thought, is to turn to the trembling of the Earth (tremblement de terre) and the Zerrissenheit or diremption of subjectivity. It is in this torn-to-pieces-hood or absolute disruption of the self that the sense of a “being-quake” of what Timothy Morton speaks of is superseded and equivocates on the possibility of hope/fear and therefore offers a faint possibility of thinking otherwise than the status quo without redemption.2 The play of febrility, anxiety, and nature is noted in Edvard Munch’s description of the 1995 version of the Scream: “I was walking along the road with two friends—the sun was setting—suddenly the sky turned blood red—I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence—there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city—my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety—and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”3
The Earth is aquake and aquiver. Philosophy is awake and aquake. The Earth shudders, shivers, trembles. Philosophy too shudders, shivers, trembles albeit frenetically, schizophrenically. The Earth is ashake and rootless. Faced with the demand to think otherwise than the singularity of the Anthropocene, to resist peering into the abyss of absolute nihilism and forms of destructive jouissance, to contest the failure of philosophy to transcend sclerotic systemsof thought is to imagine the unknown, to imagine utopia afresh. What is preventing a new image of thought from coming into being?
Preventing catastrophe will require a collective mobilization for freedom. Why does everyday life tremble with fear and loathing? . . . [W]hat we have now is a transcendental, yet actually manmade fear which seeps into every mind with immobilizing, catastrophic dread. Indeed hope itself has fled this hopeless, hapless, grey world. Beyond malaise, life sinks into sadness, boredom and monotony, with no chance to break out of the morass of absurdity. Communication . . . has all been taken in by the discourse of mass media. Interpersonal relations . . . have spoiled, and are now characterized by indifference, disingenuous disgust and self-hatred—in a word, we’re all suffering from bad faith.4
Rereading the quote above by Félix Guattari after it was penned more than three decades ago, two questions arise: What is the nature of our bad faith? And how does it tie to our bewilderment and consternation vis-à-vis the Anthropocene? I shall try and answer these questions using Guattari’s and Édouard Glissant’s conceptual architecture.
Glissant encourages us to think beyond the calamity of the world, to think utopia as a rebuilding of relation. In the Liberation newspaper in 2003, he writes the following:
Regardons alentour. La terre tremble de partout, les volcans s’éventrent, les inondations nivellent les pays, les tornades déracinent les bourgs, les épidémies sont inarrêtables, la température flambe, l’eau s’épuise et se pollue, les famines fauchent des communautés sans recours, et tout cela est le plus souvent la conséquence de l’oeuvre des hommes. Résistons à la pensée de l’Apocalypse.5
Look around. The earth trembles everywhere, volcanoes disembowel, floods level countries, tornadoes uproot villages, epidemics unstoppable, temperatures enflame, water runs out and pollutes, famines ruin communities without appeal, and all this most commonly the consequence of the work of men. Resist the thought of the Apocalypse.6
In his Poetics of Relation, the Martinican philosopher offers the idea of “mobilizing all” to protect the Earth. What is this sense of all? In his ecological vision of relation, the mobilization of all is thought in terms of a defense of minor languages and the protection of the land.7 This requires the “insurrection of the imaginary.” There is a clear passage in Glissant’s thinking from globalization to mondialité or worldliness; this is a cartography charting a path toward a new Earth, the all-world, a chaos-world. His sense of worldliness comprehends the all-world by approaching it through opacity instead of transparency (which is made all the more apparent by planetary capitalism). Here Glissant is close to Guattari, a friend and interlocutor in the early 1980s. Indeed, in Guattari’s Chaosmosis we find many thoughts of a Glissantian hue on creation, imagination, and experimentation amid the opacity of things. In light of the environmental crisis, the Earth, the errant star,8 can be rethought through Glissant’s sense of errancy, that is, through the wandering of the world, through rhizomatic, experimental, transversal thought, through relation with alterity as such. To fight and resist globalization is not undertaken by withdrawing into ourselves, into our own condition, Glissant writes, but, rather, by establishing relations with the other, the Outside as such. This sense of relation is the real dimension of utopia, Glissant says; resisting globalization demands an “enormous act of the imagination.”9 A question arises: How can we respond to the “quaking thoughts” prompted by the singularity and event of the Anthropocene? For many the existential earthquake of this event leaves us trembling toward extinction. There is little left in this moment of exhaustion but to search frantically to reinvigorate the utopian tradition. The problem is that utopia is missing: the becoming-people, the chaos-people, the utopia-people, the commune-people are all missing. Glissant insists that the all-world trembles physically, geologically, mentally, spiritually, and indeed ecologically in its search for the “utopian point.” For our purposes, this is the point where Zerrissenheit and utopia fold into each other. This is a politics of dread. Yet without the possibility of a restorative Auf hebung there is little trace of a redemptive power, no sign of a restorative sense beyond “inner conflict” and “world-weariness.” This is literally our bad faith.
The BBC’s Hard Sun is a pre-apocalyptic crime drama set in contemporary London. The protagonists Charlie Hicks and Elaine Renko—two ready-to-get-things-done-whatever-the-cost-type police detectives—stumble across a USB flash drive, in which is a top secret government document detailing the “extinction-level event” that will destroy the Earth in five years. The sun will die. MI5 is desperately trying to keep this explosive fact secret to prevent societal collapse. The duo is pursued by MI5 operatives who have orders to kill anyone with knowledge of the data on the flash drive. While I refrain from detailing the trials and tribulations of Hicks and Renko in this six-part drama, I will add that apart from being chased by the state and dodging murder attempts, most bizarrely, the coppers keep their day job, filling their days with paperwork and tracking down serial killers, cult leaders, and the like who have caught wind of the ontological apocalypse. What is interesting about Hard Sun is that once we clear away the crime drama’s ludicrous twists and turns,the premise of the series becomes clear—it deals with the moral quandary: whether the imminent extermination of humanity should be hushed up or made a matter of public knowledge. Personally speaking, this moral quandary was revealed to me when I was a child. A primary school teacher informed my class that one day the sun would die. She did not elaborate on what would happen to life on the Earth itself but explained that this event would not happen for millions of years. Despite this caveat, the trauma of this existential revelation remains seared into my memory. Therefore when I chanced upon Hard Sun the traumatic memory returned. The writer of the series appears gleeful of the lot of the human species and all life on Earth. This rather bizarre crime series encapsulates a perverse kind of celebration in the collapse of the human security system, as Nick Land might say.10 What made me laugh uncontrollably after chancing upon Hard Sun is the truly unfathomable demand for a second series by British TV viewers. How would the series proceed? What would another prequel series be like? How would it trace the gradual movement and fall into nihilism? How punishing it would be to watch a multiseries version of Hard Sun that has as a final denouement the death of the sun and therefore all lifeon Earth. After watching the series to its dramatic finale and indeed shedding a tear, I must say that in episode 6, one is witness to the Unspeakable and the Unstoppable,11 the death of the sun and with it the end of all life. The demand for a second series is suggestive of the collective disavowal of the Anthropocene, that is to say, emblematic of the psychic solastalgia that confounds comprehension of the ecology of the present and its causes.12
The apocalyptic end and unfolding catastrophe are perpetually disavowed, infinitely deferred and repressed. Like Bartleby, we would prefer not to think about this. Faced with ruin, destruction, and annihilation, there is an exhaustion of thought; there is nothing left to say of the future, save a sickening and contagious delight in extinction, horror, and ecocatastrophe. Of course British science fiction is hardly apocalypse-shy (think of The Day of the Triffids), but Hard Sun takes on a perverse, singular dimension.Quite pointlessly perhaps, I try to stay positive after watching this series. I repeat a mantra to myself that this exhausted dystopia may turn into other dissensual fabulations, perhaps a renewed belief in the all-world or at best abelief in the end-of-another-world. The arising of such problems is a way of creating a future. Yet such optimism does not last. The Anthropocene is literally on the immediate horizon: the Sol obitus is the hyperobject par excellence. It is a symptom of a fundamental shaking of being, a “being-quake,” as Timothy Morton says. The sun, “the hub of nature” as Lingis puts it, exhausts itself of hydrogen. Life on Earth ends as the sun dies and becomes a giant red star, scorching all in its wake. The sun squanders its energy and expends without recompense. The sun’s end is earth-shattering. The Earth no longer orbits around the sun in perpetuum. It is a philosophical earthquake of singular proportion.
Blissful Dawn to the Blistering of the Sun
The kairotic time of the Anthropocene interrupts chronic normality with an apocalyptic singularity of both beginning and end. It demands a dark, opaque theory. One possible extreme example and response to sun death is to accelerate the process; to say deliriously, We haven’t seen anything yet; to expect more ripping and tearing of the Earth’s crust. This is mad, black Deleuzianism at its most sinister and gleeful. This is found in the “dark thinking” of the “black sun” as expounded by David R. Cole.13 Thick and viscous, the Anthropocene is our blackest hole and blackest melancholy. The black sun, the depressed superego, is the culmination of the human death drive. The Anthropocene is the “dark expression” of these drives. Exemplified in Hard Sun, what is truly disturbing is the delight in the impending annihilation of the human species. There is little concern with the question of what it might mean to live at the end of the world. In the surreal vision of the sun coming to an end, there is a disturbance in time itself. Time ends. We are out of time and out of joint. Time is obliterated. Cosmic rays have triggered a runaway breakdown. In heat death, from maximum entropy, the lights will go out. Eventually there will be no more light. This is the end of the human world, the end of global humanity. It is not only the end of our world but the end of all worlds, all existence, all life. There is global ecosystemic meltdown, thermal degeneration, a freezing over of the world—all organization is dissolved.
How do we think the catastrophic prospect of nonexistence, the prospect of the loss of humanity, the loss of humanity? At this crisis point, the hyperobject of the sun contacts us. It demands that we think oblivion. What is the nature of suspended time, solitary time, noncaring time? How do we enjoy this time, this dull aching sense of nontime, this unbearable and intolerable sense of time, this exception to time? Human futures cannot be thought. Living at the end of time is waiting for time to end. In the wake or our wake of not being in the world, not being with the Earth, this becomes an incarceration in the present. This is the dread of not being in the world, not being in the nonworld, not being in the sunless world. The death of the sun obliterates all life. This pertains to mourning, depression, nihilism—a petrified, impersonal and abstract, dull, aching moment. This apocalyptic narrative points to our human lot—to the love between parent and child, friends, all livings things. This image of human extinction is what endures at the end. Our geotrauma,14 “aboriginal trauma,”15 is real. The end returns us to the question of the human, how to endure the horror of the Anthropocene. Even as it dies the hyperobject that is the sun teaches us its lesson. In this way, Timothy Morton is correct, hyper-objects have contacted us. In his form of mystical animism, it is argued that it behooves us to make sense of this contact. Making sense of this contact is a question of how to live in the Anthropocene, how to live in the Anthropocene with knowledge of the Anthropocene, with knowledge of the hyperobject. For its part, Hard Sun ends in decadence, downgoing, and nihilism; the world is plunged into pessimism, despair, and darkness. The dying sun no longer burns bright. There can be no self-overcoming of modernity. No longer blissful, the sun comes to a blistering end.
Scorched-Earth Plateau—Countdown 04.41.06.18.16.16.95
To respond to the black sun scenario,16 engineered utopias are quivering, trembling, tremulous; they exceed shrink-wrapped systems of anthropocentric thought and subject themselves to the not-yet. Trembling thought (la pensée du tremblement) migrates beyond the end of utopia and history. Trembling or dread is not mere uncertainty or fear. In response to the disruption or rift of our time, deliriously, there is a thirst for fragmentation, splitting: not redemption per se but diremption. Accelerating the process of our inhuman decomposition, this utopian thought is excrescent, archipelagic, invoking new islands, volcanoes, earthquakes, heterogeneous worlds, traversing the unknown and nonhuman. The world is aquake. Faced with a perverse, febrile sense of collective Schadenfreude, the mad, black delight in eschatologico-thanatological ends, human life is sans-fond, without ground. The world trembles. Uprooted, the wandering world is without origin. Dorismond is right to ask: “How is politics still possible at this moment of creating stories?”17 How to resist the collapse of philosophy—the so-called organon of extinction?18 Far from making thought collapse at the moment of its witness to chaos and cataclysm, in the time of the Anthropocene, we might invoke Deleuze’s distinction between “foundation” (fondation) and “ground” (fondement).19 The “ungrounding” of the Earth is taken as effondement in Deleuze’s sense. Beneath every ground is a nonground: the Earthcannot ground itself in itself. There is a universal breakdown (effondrement) but also an event taken as an unfounding (effondement). Then the Anthropocene reveals a universal breakdown or collapse (effondrement) beside a universal ungrounding (effondement)—in effect, the “absence of fondement” or ground. Similarly, for Glissant, every mental, material, or social territory is founded upon this global passage of ungrounding.20 The Earth trembles even as the sun dies.
Exhaustion of the Hyperobject
At the point of exhaustion, that which exhausts itself exhausts conventional signification. There is nothing left to say as the sun dies. At the time of the Anthropocene, we are left with the becomings of language, painful stutterings and stammerings, a difficult mourning in making sense of the dreadful. There is a limit to exhaustion, to the possible, to the exhaustion of all possibilities and responses. The exhausted exhausts all of the possible. This is the exhaustion of syntactic style.21 This is the exhaustion of extant utopias. In witnessing the horror of sun death, awaiting death, the exhausted exhausts the possible: humans are without goal, signification, or hope. There is nothing left to say. Life cannot go on, but it must go on. Faced with this abysmal thought foolhardily one tries to stay positive. Though tired of words, fatigued with nihilistic thoughts, at the limit of that which can be thought, one asks desperately and downcast, Is not the invention of the possible itself possible again? Is there not an open way for experimentation?
Transvaluation of All Values
The state of emergency that is the Anthropocene demands a transvaluation of all values. The Earth-affirming Zarathustra waits for a new world to manifest from the downgoing of man and the sun. Nietzsche writes of Zarathustra wanting to go under like the sun.22 Yet do we moderns see the sun as Nietzsche once did? Perhaps, we last men squint askance at the distorted world. Lovecraft captures this crisis brilliantly: “The very sun of heaven seemed distorted when viewed through the polarising miasma welling out from this sea-soaked perversion, and twisted menace and suspense lurked leeringly in those crazy elusive angles of carven rock where a second glance showed concavity after the first showed convexity.”23
Can utopias emerge in the exhaustion of thinking the possible? Can utopia be a new language to explore our human-all-too-human lot? If so, as we search for the new in the deformation of language, for an image of thought altogether other, what becomes apparent is the need for a new register of language to engineer visions and sounds that linger imperceptibly behind the tired models and formulas of utopia. It is not a question of resurrecting utopias of yore. Rather, this is to think absolute deterritorialization,24 nomadism, the drift of the present—possibilities formed from the site of exhaustion, by way of hidden relations and inextricable language. For Deleuze and Guattari, the utopian constitutes more than a mere pipe dream because it also “designates that conjunction of philosophy, or of the concept, with the present milieu—political philosophy.”25 For them, it is through absolute re-(de)territorialization and the embrace of the forces of the Outside that one may begin to detail the contours of this absolute Other, the absolute uncanny contrary to the stasis of the present. Here it is to ask how one might think beyond models of repetition and simulacra to create something like negen-u-topia.26What new images of thought may coalesce into being? In thisspeculative cosmology, in confrontation with apocalyptic ends, namely, the extinction of the human species, how can we fabulate kinetic negen-u-topias? I turn to Glissant, as his counsel is striking. Utopia is a concept enabling thought to think what and must come:
Utopia is not a dream. It is what we are lacking in the world. Here’s what it is: that which we are lacking in the world. Many of us have rejoiced in the fact that the philosopher Gilles Deleuze considered that the function of literature as art is first to invent a people that is missing. Utopia is the very place of that people. We imagine, we try to imagine what would happen if we could not invent that, even if we didn’t know what it is, except that we know that with this people and this peopled country we would be closer to the world, and the world closer to us.27
Melancholia at the End of the World
In the last episode of Hard Sun, at the apocalyptic end, the screen is filled with impersonal affects of melancholy, mourning, deep-seated trauma, solastalgia, and Zerrissenheit. The sun dies. The camera zooms in on the face, on the eye, and traces a falling tear. The face turns to the sun and knows the giver of life takes it all away. We are witness to a dreadful haecceity—a singularity of simultaneous beginning and end. We are torn from the world. The world as we knew it is no more. Human intervention is absurd; miraculous attempts to save humanity are pathetic. This is the melancholic, nihilistic, and apocalyptic aesthetic of Hard Sun. The grief has begun not only for the past, for personal memories of loved ones and friends, but also futurally and anticipatory, for those who will not come. All is forlorn as the sun will die. Thinking about this last scene, I ask myself what aesthetic encounters found in Hard Sun have the potential for the reinvigoration of ecological thought. I try to think this because Morton suggests that melancholy is “ethically appropriate” in an ecological situation in which “the worst has already happened”28 and in which we find ourselves “already fully implicated.” The hyperobject of the dying sun disturbs, arouses, agitates, incites us to think once again. It compels us to go under. The hyperobject of the dying sun solicits us (sollicitare in old Latin means “to shake as a whole,” “to make tremble in entirety”). The hyper-object of stellar death produces a trembling thought. The sun blackens. It is our ultimate distress, harassment, and vexation.29 How can we think the black sun as a counterdepressant, a depression inhibitor, if, as Kristeva suggests, there is no imagination that is not, “overtly or secretly,” melancholy?30 How can we think otherwise than its blinding, scorching despair? How can we tie the black sun to an imaginary that, contra Kristeva, is not itself melancholic? If we think the object of the sun in hyperobjective terms, how can we think it other than a concern for object loss, that is to say, depression, the mourning of a lost object? What is beyond the putrefaction of the object, its decomposition into the blackest of all black bile? The black sun of melancholia becomes the blistering, blinding force of solastalgia.
I return to Glissant. What can be extracted from Glissant is an “aesthetics” of the toutmonde, the all-world. Glissant too is thinking planetary consciousness as absolute deterritorialization, bidding to free thought of territorial, statist, nationhood, kin, and clan—in summa, to rethink the politics of identity. Capitalism hates this utopian decodification. Glissant’s affirmation of utopia is a terrifying nightmare. Utopia fills capitalism with dread; it is a flow that eludes its codification—it hates the gnawing refrain that things can be otherwise. I enjoy this thought: utopia haunts capitalism as a terrifying nightmare and specter. “It is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes,” as Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus.31
The Black Sun
The sun dies, and its imperative is imposed upon us. We are compelled to think our complicity in ecological and climatic destruction. Alphonso Lingis finds imperatives imposed on us by nonhuman nature—landscapes, ecosystems, oceans, and the planetary system. In “The Malice in Good Deeds,” Lingis claims: “The most urgent ethics of responsibility is yet to be elaborated.”32 Indeed, elsewhere Lingis lingers on this sense of a world without a sun and speaks of a new basis for material reality and a new understanding of the destination and destiny for man that the death of the sun summons us to consider: “We have hardly begun work into our conception of ourselves, our values, and our pleasures, the revelation by astronomy that the sun is burning itself out as fast as it can, and that in another billion years all animal and plant life on Earth, now already 4.5 billion years old, will be incinerated before the exploding end of the sun. We shall have to find a new conception of material reality and recognize the destination and destiny to which it summons us.”33 And clearly influenced by Lingis’s uniquely crafted, Deleuze-inflected phenomenology, Harman in his object-oriented ontology writes of the imperatives emanating precisely from objects: “The object is an imperative, radiating over us like a black sun, holding us in its orbit, demanding our attention, insisting that we reorganize our lives along its shifting axes. The object is a force, and thus our valuation of it is a gift of force, and nothing like a recognition at all.”34
Trembling, intrepid thought vibrates and spirals, fragments, splits, cracking the world further. This is to imagine the cracking up of the world, the diremption of all being.35 The all-world is not the One, Glissant will say, because he invokes a trembling philosophy approaching the entanglement and complexity of the world.36 Such a tremblement of things and objects rejects dogmatic images of thought. Glissant writes: “The all-world trembles; the all-world trembles physically, geologically, mentally, spiritually, because the all-world is looking for the point of utopia.”37 For Glissant, utopia is where “all the world’s cultures and imaginations meet and hear one another without dispersing or losing themselves. Utopia is where one can meet with the other without losing himself.”38 Mirroring this, my thought experiment of negen-u-topia can be taken as a form of “quaking thought” preparatory for autopian “worldquake.” A quaking thought of the archipelagic mind would counter Morton’s melancholic “quake in being.” Why? Glissant explicitly argues that the archipelagic mind is opposed to system thinking. The archipelagic mind thus accords with the tremble of our world.39 Glissant’s thought might be described as thixotropic, wherein viscous matter flows more fluidly when shaken, agitated, or stressed. Viscous, striated thinking flows with the trembling of the inextricable world.
Disaster, the end of world relations, evokes to the mind a trembling of peoples. The trembling before the Anthropocene is our Zerrissenheit, our seismic and spiritual torn-to-pieces-hood, our groundbreaking thought. It is a rhizomatic thought of solidarity with the oppressed of the world. This rhizomatic aspect from Deleuze and Guattari finds its way into Glissant’s work: it charts our unpredictable chaos-world and whole-world. It is a tool to think the precarious, fragmentary, trembling of the Earth and its future. Their rhizomatics is consistent with Glissant’s rejection of One-thinking (pensee de l’Un) and his affirmation of diverse-thinking (pensee du Divers), whichacknowledges the opacity or darkness of that which it surveys. It suggests the birth of the diverse, the multiple, the heterogeneous, which Glissant says will establish a new way of conceiving being, a new way of relating to the world. Glissant is demanding that we learn to think and act in the inextricable world without reducing it to singular impulses or interests, individual or collective, and to our own systems of thought. We can argue that this is a new utopia. I agree with Glissant that what the inhabitants of the all-world most need is to resist the thought of the apocalypse (resistons a la pensee d’Apocalypse). For me, philosophy in its current desperate mode is a way of building new imaginaries. This is a way to critique Morton’s sometimes indulgent antihuman theory of hyperobjects. Contra Morton, philosophy is tasked with writing an ecosophy precisely with a world. At the end of catastrophe, we must think of a philosophy that begins not with wonder but with dread, as Nietzsche says. Moreover, faced with the terror of our times, philosophy must respond with its own terrorizing practice. Philosophers must learn to attack. This is a form of pedagogy on the brink of the Anthropocene, in the exhaustion of thought, at the point of apoplexy. This is a form of pedagogy probing the inaccessibility of hyperobjects, questioning the incredulity toward this new metanarrative, incredulity toward easily digestible solutions to the Anthropocene.
In contrast to this passive sense of incredulity toward the new metanarrative, it is interesting to turn to Nietzsche and to hear his exhortation in Anti-education: On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, in which he writes:“We should provoke terror . . . not just wonder; we must attack . . . not timidly flee.”40 How is it possible to untangle a utopianism from the traumatic thoughts and dark phantasmagoria of the Anthropocene? How can we re-generate the generations to forge a communism of relations? Glissant ties imagination with utopia, suggesting that the power of imagination is utopian because utopia is realist when it prefigures what will, as he says, “allow us to accompany the actions that do not tremble.”41 This I take to mean the insurrection of the imaginary and a sense of the imaginary at odds with Kristeva, who claims that imagination itself is inextricably melancholic. Glissant shares much with the thrust of Guattari’s utopian philosophy, because what Guattari is writing against is precisely the sense of a “vertigo of collective death” (vertige de mort collectif ),42 which we might also call the black hole of absolute deterritorialization. The sun dies. Guattari aims to counter the “scarecrow at the end of the world” (l’épouvantail de la fin du monde),43or thought ofcollective annihilation, by invoking utopia in the last instance, through the subjective city, which I read as a utopian city, a resistance to the fetishism of hyperobjects.44 As Guattari states: “There is no question here of opposing the utopia of a new ‘heavenly Jerusalem,’ like that of the Apocalypse, to the harsh necessities of our time, but of establishing a ‘subjective city’ at the very heart of these necessities.”45
Speleology and Underground Man
In utopian terms, much has changed from the fin de siècle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first century in terms of the understanding of the Anthropocene. At the turn of the nineteenth century, there was hope even with the darkening of the sky. In Tarde’s utopian scheme humans are exhorted to literally go under. Tarde’s science-fiction novel is illuminated by Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God in section 125: “The Madman” of The Gay Science: “What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving now? Where are we moving now? Away from all suns? Aren’t we perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Aren’t we straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it become colder? Isn’t more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning?”46
Compare the exhaustion of possibility in Hard Sun with Gabriel Tarde’s 1896 novel Fragment d’histoire future (Underground Man), in which an escape route for the human race beyond the apocalypse is envisioned in the wake of the momentous extinction event of the sun. Although in Hard Sun there is a conspicuous failure to think the future, the collapse of the sun in Fragment d’histoire future compels humans to create a utopia under the Earth. We findthat at both the turn of the nineteenth century and the fin de siècle there lingered a belief that the destiny of humans will survive the prospect of solar death and catastrophe. “The sun is failing us: let us dispense with the sun,” says Miltiades, the leader of the new movement under the Earth. In Tarde’s philosophical anthropology, Miltiades encourages others to follow him underground, to become free from the natural world above, to become perfect social and aesthetic animals, to evolve inside the Cave—we can say to escape the idealism of Western philosophy by embracing the dark materialism of another world. Miltiades tells his audience not to get out of the world but to go deeper within it:
We must say no more: “Up there! but, below!” There, below, far below, lies the promised Eden, the abode of deliverance and of bliss: there, and there alone, there are still innumerable conquests and discoveries to be made! Of the beautiful human race, so strong and noble, formed by so many centuries of effort and genius by such an intelligent and extended selection, there would soon have been only left a few thousands, a few hundreds of haggard and trembling specimens, unique trustees of the last ruins of what had once been civilization.47
According to H. G. Wells, who wrote the preface for the English translation of Tarde’s work, what emerge in Underground Man are “extraordinary imaginative possibilities.” For Tarde, with the death of the sun, there is the prospect of what is deemed “wholly human humankind.” The sun dies, but man survives. All living nature dies except man. The anemic sun collapses. Man goes under in response to a catastrophe of singular proportion. Consequently,the planet’s surface freezes over, millions perish, and civilization is obliged to rebuild itself “for the benefit of all.” Lazzarato calls this the beginning of a “non-historical era,” “an era of creation.”48 This is the era of the inhuman, where no distinction is made between nature and society, human and nonhuman.
Miltiades, “the barbarian, the dissident, the bastard,”49 speaks of the deep geological changes taking place: “The situation is serious. Nothing like it has been seen since the geological epochs. Is it irretrievable? No! Desperate diseases require desperate remedies. An idea, a glimmer of hope has flashed upon me, but it is so strange, I shall never dare to reveal it to you. No, I dare not, I shall never dare to formulate this project. You would believe me to be still insane. You desire it, you promise me to listen to the end to my absurd and extravagant project? Even to give it a fair trial? Well! I will speak.”50 He answers his own rhetoric:
Let us descend into these depths; let us make these abysses our sure retreat. The mystics had a sublime presentiment when they said in their Latin: “From the outward to the inward.” The earth calls us to its inner self. For many centuries it has lived separated, so to say, from its children, the living creatures it produced outside during its period of fecundity before the cooling of its crust! After its crust cooled, the rays of a distant star alone, it is true, have maintained on this dead epidermis their artificial and superficial life which has been a stranger to her own.51
With time upon the inhabitants of the planet, and critical of Tarde’s ironic Panglossian optimism, H. G. Wells questions the enthusiasm and possibility of such a subterranean world:
Directly one thinks at all seriously of such a thing as this solar extinction, one perceives how preposterously hopeless it is to imagine that mankind would make any head against so swift and absolute a fate. Our race would behave just as any single man behaves when death takes him suddenly through some cardiac failure. It would feel very queer, it would want to sit down and alleviate its strange discomfort, it would say something stupid or inarticulate, make an odd gesture or so, and flicker out. But it is compatible with the fantastic and ironical style for M. Tarde to mock our conceit in our race’s capacity and pretend men did all sorts of organized and wholesale things quite beyond their capabilities.52
Apollo, the sun god, bringer of light and rational clarity to the world, is burst asunder. The sun is burst asunder. Deos augei, the light emanating from the sun, the rays of Zeus, radiate no more. We return to the cave, to the volcanic depths of the Earth. We look at the sun, on pain of blindness and death. The explosion of the sun is a futureless singularity bearing down, a singularity to end all others, at least in our nearest universe. This is the time of the Anthropocene. Nothing more is illuminated by the sun. Verily, the fantasy of a world without a sun is a form of destructive jouissance, and Hard Sun expresses the incapacity and anxiety of imagining this universal cataclysm. This incredulity toward the end is one of endless deferral. The sun has sunk down. We are sunk down in existential and solar apoplexy.
The prospect and question of redemption is one of perspective. The trouble with Adorno’s view on the question of salvation is that at the end of the world, there is no light to look back or forward, neither this-worldly nor otherworldly messianic form; at the end there is no light—the sun dies. It is this ruinous limit that makes Hard Sun end so miserably and nihilistically. Face-to-face with our uttermost impossibility, we are not even afforded a retrospective stance regarding the possibility of redemption. There is no light for this redemption. We are not afforded any sense of the philosophical or messianic redemption that Adorno, a writer hardly shy of pessimism, invokes in aphorism 153, entitled “Finale,” at the end of Minima Moralia, where he writes on despair from the standpoint of redemption, claiming that comprehension of its own very impossibility is a vital task:
The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. To gain such perspectives without velleity or violence, entirely from felt contact with its objects—this alone is the task of thought. . . . But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hair’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, if it shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape. The more passionately thought denies its conditionality for the sake of the unconditional, the more unconsciously, and so calamitously, it is delivered up to the world. Even its own impossibility it must at last comprehend for the sake of the possible. But beside the demand thus placed on thought, the question of the reality or unreality of redemption itself hardly matters.53
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche ends his story of ascent and descent with the following words: “This is my morning, my day is beginning: up now, up, you great noon!” Zarathustra leaves his cave, “glowing and strong, like a morning sun that emerges from dark mountains.”54 He remains true to the Earth. Not so in the final denouement of Hard Sun, where we see the flaring of the sun. It is our uttermost impossibility. There is no more morning, no beginning, no great noon. There is no rising of the sun above the dark mountains of contemporary stasis and nihilism. With the extinguishing of the sun and its warmth, there is no more terrestrial horizon; Zarathustra stays hermetically in the cave. Zarathustra, like the last men in Tarde’s novel, turns troglodyte, without light, without future. In our time and compared with the dreams, inventions, and overflowing optimism found in the utopias of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the possibility of kinetic,55 immanent utopias seems deadly out of sight and despairingly out of mind.56
Joff P. N. Bradley is Professor in the faculty of language studies at Teikyo University in Tokyo, Japan. Joff is a visiting professor at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, India, and visiting research fellow at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea.
- This unworld or immonde of contemporary civilization is productive of what Jean-Luc Nancy calls “inverted, destructive jouissance.” Peter Gratton and Marie-Eve Morin, eds., The Nancy Dictionary (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 10.
- Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 21.
- Peter Aspden, “So, What Does ‘The Scream’ Mean?” Financial Times, April 21, 2012.
- Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri, New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty, ed. Stevphen Shukaitis, trans. Michael Ryan, Jared Becker, Arianna Bove, and Noe Le Blanc (London: Minor Compositions, 2010), 28.
- Edouard Glissant, “Mon journal de la semaine. Résistons à la pensée de l’Apocalypse,” Libération 3/4 (May 2003): 34. See also Guattari and Negri, New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty, 28.
- Chris Bongie, Friends and Enemies: The Scribal Politics of Post/Colonial Literature (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008), 334.
- “Ecology, going above and beyond its concerns with what we call the environment, seems to us to represent mankind’s drive to extend to the planet Earth the former sacred thought of Territory. Thus, it has a double orientation: either it can be conceived of as a by-product of this sacred and in this case be experienced as mysticism, or else this extending thought will bear the germ of criticism of territorial thought (of its sacredness and exc1usiveness), so that ecology will then act as politics. The politics of ecology has implications for populations that are decimated or threatened with disappearance as a people. For, far from consenting to sacred intolerance, it is a driving force for the relational interdependence of all lands, of the whole Earth. It is this very interdependence that forms the basis for entitlement.” Edouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 146.
- Seen from space with human eyes, for Heidegger the Earth has become “the errant star,” the wandering star.
- Glissant, “Mon journal de la semaine,” 34; my translation.
- Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987–2007, ed. Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier (Falmouth, U.K.: Urbanomic, 2018).
- Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 70.
- Solastalgia is a portmanteau of the words solace—desolation—and nostalgia, coinedby Glenn Albrecht.
- D. R. Cole, Black Sun: The Singularity at the Heart of the Anthropocene (forthcoming).
- David Cole, R. Dolphijn, and Joff Bradley, “Fukushima: The Geo-trauma of a Futural Wave,” Trans-humanities 9, no. 3 (2016): 211–33.
- Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Houndmills, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 223.
- Cole, Black Sun.
- E. Dorismond, “Creolization of Politics, Politics of Creolization: Thinking of an ‘Unthought’ in the Work of Edouard Glissant,” Sens public, October 21, 2014, http:// http://www.sens-public.org/article1109.html?lang=fr.
- Brassier, Nihil Unbound, 229. I have deliberately tried to steer clear as much as possible from the debates within object-oriented ontology and noncorrelationism. I have used some of the work of Timothy Morton, but I have deliberately not treated philosophers of speculative realism in detail. I have tried to keep my considerations within a rather idiosyncratic Marxist-phenomenological interpretation of solar catastrophe, which is why there is reference to Deleuze, Guattari, Glissant, Alphonso Lingis, Graham Harman, and Timothy Morton, the latter of whom has a reading drawn from Lingis, and not speculative realists such as Quentin Meillassoux or Ray Brassier or indeed the work of Jean-François Lyotard on the inhuman. My reading of utopia and solar extinction, then, is drawn from Deleuze and a Lingisian reading of Bataille and Nietzsche.
- The word fond can be taken as either “ground” or “bottom.” The “groundless”
- (sans-fond) can be explicitly linked to the German Ungrund.
- As Deleuze and Guattari explain the distinction between Earth and territory: “The earth is certainly not the same thing as the territory. The earth is the intense point at the deepest level of the territory . . . where all the forces draw together in close embrace.” Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 338–39.
- Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, 5.
- “Zarathustra too wants to go under like the sun; now he sits and waits, old broken tablets around him and also new tablets—partially written upon.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, trans. Adrian Del Caro (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2015), 159.
- H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu: And Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, preface by Alan Moore, illus. by Dan Hillier (London: Folio Society, 2017), 94.
- This concept appears in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What Is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (London: Verso, 1994).
- Ibid., 100.
- This is a reworking of the idea of the “neganthropocene” in Bernard Stiegler and Daniel Ross, The Neganthropocene (London: Open Humanities Press, 2018). It is Stiegler who tries to understand the growth of psychic illness that is manifesting in the time of the Anthropocene. He throws down the gauntlet to philosophy to return to the base of knowledge of philosophy to come to terms with, to comprehend, the problems of the Anthropocene. It is this gauntlet I am attempting to pick up in the name of utopian thought by invoking the neologism negen-u-topia. The problematic of thinking the unworld as it is is drawn from a Marxist analysis of the ecological reality we are facing and a consideration of the (utopian) possibility of organizing social relations that can endure the environmental disaster that is upon us (as I asked: How can we re-generate the generations to forge a communism of relations, to resist the fetishism of hyperobjects?). This I insist is philosophy’s task. This is why I have created the neologism negen-u-topia.
- Michael Wiedorn, Think like an Archipelago: Paradox in the Work of Édouard Glissant (Albany: State University of New York, 2018), 63–64.
- Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 75.
- “The Japan earthquake of 2011 was also plausibly a manifestation of global warming, since changing temperatures in the ocean change the pressure on the Earth’s crust. Another footprint may well have been the Japanese earthquake itself, since the changing oceanic temperature may have changed the pressure on Earth’s crust, resulting in an earthquake. The quake destroyed four nuclear reactors. Quanta from these reactors, known as alpha, beta, and gamma particles, inscribe themselves in soft tissue around the world. We are living textbooks on global warming and nuclear materials, crisscrossed with interobjective calligraphy” (Morton, Hyperobjects, 88). Kant will say otherwise; this is not divine retribution.
- Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon Samuel Roudiez (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 6.
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane, preface by Michel Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 140.
- Alphonso Lingis, “The Malice in Good Deeds,” in Nietzsche and Levinas: “After the Death of a Certain God,” ed. Jill Stauffer and Bettina Bergo (New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press, 2009), 32.
- Alphonso Lingis, “The Voices of Things,” Senses and Society 4, no. 3 (2009): 280–81.
- Graham Harman, Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures (Ropley, U.K.: O Books, 2010), 20.
- Here Braidotti introduces the possibility of nomadic sustainable ethics. Braidotti writes: “The crack designates the generative emptiness of Death, as part of zoe and the swarming possibilities it expresses. The overcoming of Death as silence by an active frequentation of the line of cracking up is, for Deleuze, the work of thought. We think to infinity, against the terror of insanity, through the horror of the void, in the wilderness of mental landscapes fit only for werewolves. We think with the shadow of death dangling in front of our eyes. Thought, however, is a gesture of affirmation and hope for sustainability and endurance not in the mode of liberal moderation but rather as a radical experiment with thresholds of sustainability. This reiterates the necessity to acknowledge and feel compassion for pain and those who suffer it, but also to work through it. Moving beyond the paralyzing effects of pain on self and others, working across it, is the key to nomadic sustainable ethics. It does not aim at mastery, but at the transformation of negative into positive passions. I do like putting the active back into activism as an ethical as well as a political project.” Rosi Braidotti, Transpositions on Nomadic Ethics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 214.
- Edouard Glissant, Esthetique 1 1 ([Paris]: Gallimard, 2006), 187.
- Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Edouard Glissant, Edouard Glissant & Hans Ulrich Obrist (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2011), 5.
- Ibid., 6.
- Edouard Glissant, La Cohée du Lamentin ([Paris]: Gallimard, 2006).
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Anti-education: On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, ed. Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon, trans. Damion Searls (New York: New York Review Books, 2016), lecture IV.
- Edouard Glissant, Philosophie de la relation: Poésie en étendue (Paris: Gallimard, 2012), 56; my translation.
- Felix Guattari, Machinic Eros: Writings on Japan, ed. Gary Genosko and Jay Hetrick (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2015), 107.
- Ibid., 106; my translation.
- Felix Guattari, Qu’est-ce que l’ecosophie? ed. Stephane Nadaud (Paris: Lignes, 2014), 33.
- Guattari, Machinic Eros, 99.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random, 1974), 181.
- Gabriel Tarde, Underground Man, trans. C. Brereton, preface by H. G. Wells (1905; Westport: Hyperion Press, 1974), 60.
- Maurizio Lazzarato, introduction to Gabriel Tarde, Underground (Fragments of Future Histories), ed. Liam Gillick (Brussels: Les Maîtres de Forme Contemporains, 2004), 18.
- Ibid., 13.
- Tarde, Underground Man, 20.
- Ibid., 76.
- Wells, preface to Tarde, Underground Man, 5.
- T. W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 2010), 246.
- Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 266.
- John S. Partington, “The Death of the Static: H. G. Wells and the Kinetic Utopia,” Utopian Studies 11, no. 2 (2000): 96–111.
- Deleuze and Guattari make a distinction between immanent and transcendent utopias: “In utopia (as in philosophy) there is always the risk of a restoration, and sometimes a proud affirmation, of transcendence, so that we need to distinguish between authoritarian utopias, or utopias of transcendence, and immanent, revolutionary, libertarian utopias” (What Is Philosophy? 10).
One thought on “On the Philosophy of Trembling: Negen-u-topia, Sun Death, Ecosophy”
I love this – so beautiful and potent- thank you David!
On Sun, 10 May 2020 at 11:51, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research into the Anthropocene wrote:
> David R Cole posted: ” Joff P. N. Bradley Here several utopian/dystopian > thought experiments are proffered to explore the contemporary sheer dread > in thinking otherwise than the contemporary unworld as it is.1 With > reference to the 2017 BBC drama Hard Sun and the cosmo” >