Review: Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen and James Davis, Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (PM Press, 2012)
This is the end. My only friend: the end. - JM
Capitalist governance is hardly thinkable today outside the shifting contours of the politics of fear. Terror pulses and surges within the global social process, and anxiety shapes the very forms of contemporary subjectivity. The logic of accumulation dominates through a flexible mix of enjoyment and enforcement. Under the pressures and miseries of social and ecological crises, fantasies of doom animate both the dream machines of the culture industry and the political imaginaries of divergent social movements. To experience collective self-destruction as a supreme aesthetic pleasure, Benjamin noted back at the opening of the new era of terror, is bad politics.
Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth offers a superb and needed critical overview of current tendencies toward an aestheticizing politics of doom. Evolving out of discussions catalyzed by Iain Boal and the Retort collective, these essays by Lilley, McNally, Yuen and Davis survey and analyze the traps and delusions involved when catastrophe scenarios are deployed as a mobilizing political figure. Clearly, we need to understand these pitfalls, for as Yuen observes, our moment ‘is saturated with instrumental, spurious, and sometimes maniacal versions of catastrophism – including right-wing racial paranoia, religious millenarianism, liberal panics over fascism, leftist fetishization of capitalist collapse, capitalist invocation of the “shock doctrine,” and pop culture cliché’(pp. 15-16).