Amador Fernández-Savater: The apocalypse has already happened

Albrecht Dürer, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

From Lobo Suelto (22/09/2022) …

And yet, here we are back at the millennium. Each morning, we shall be on the eve of the end of time …

Jean-Paul Sartre, The End of War

Discourses of collapse proliferate everywhere. The repeated announcement of the end of our civilisation (or of the world) by a series of chain-like catastrophes: supplies, wars, epidemics; the urgent call of the “climate emergency” that wants to turn anguish (eco-anxiety and green depression) into action.

In some way, talk of collapse reissues the “end discourse” of classic Marxism, but in a green key. The limit that will determine the fall of the entire system is no longer internal to the dynamics of capital (increasingly severe cyclical crises), but external: the logic of infinite growth collides with the very finitude of the planet.

When will the Big Crunch, the great implosion, take place, 2030, 2050? These calculations are reminiscent of those that the Marxist theoreticians of the 20th century entertained for so long, who competed to predict the exact moment of the definitive collapse of the system. But what if the apocalypse has already happened?

We have lost the Cosmos

This is the idea defended by the famous English writer D.H Lawrence in his essay on the biblical book of Revelation or the Apocalypse written by John of Patmos.

The true catastrophe, the one that determines all the others according to Lawrence, is the habit that we have acquired of living as if we were not in the world. And we acquired that habit about two thousand years ago.

The death of paganism implied the death of the Cosmos, which is what Lawrence calls a kind of love relationship with the world. Believing that each thing is inhabited by a god implies considering that each this is concrete and singular, that it has value in and of itself, that it asks us to listen and to care for it in specific ways.

The gods scattered throughout the world, always on the move, always passing through, prevented things from being treated as simple things: as utilities, means to ends, objects of calculation.

First, with the appearance of disembodied reason and then with Christianity, there is a break: the cut between the sensible and the intelligible. Since then, spirit reigns over matter. The bonds cease to be loving and become instrumental. The world ceases to be in us and we cease to be in the world. Things no longer touch us, they do not move us, they do not stir us: they are objects to accumulate, resources to exploit, experiences to consume, landscapes to visit.

“I can deny my connections, break them, and become a fragment”, writes Lawrence, “the responsive centres are dead”. The ability to relate to the world in a non-instrumental way lies in our body, capable of affecting and being affected, capable of love. The apocalypse is the murder of “the lover in himself, as the woman kills the lover in herself”, the sensitivity that can connect with the singular strength or virtue of each thing (with its “god”).

What is thus born is the individual and individualism: a fragment separated from the world, a consciousness isolated from the body, a calculating machine. Pagan freedom is a relative freedom: in relation to something, relational. The freedom of the individual is absolute: to be able to do what s/he wants, abstracting from the materiality of affections, ties and territories; freedom not to love, not to bond, to connect and disconnect only according to interest.

Each one of the catastrophes that befall us since the loss of the Cosmos is only a replica of the first great earthquake: the establishment of the instrumental relationship with the world.

The project of things

Today, a thinker like Rita Segato unfolds a discourse in which we can find resonances with Lawrence, developed not by chance from the vital fabric of community or popular feminism, that feminism interested not only in the absolute freedoms of the individual, but above all in the relative freedoms of bonds.

Patriarchy is the oldest power structure, Segato thinks, and the others replicate it. What does it consist of? It is a mandate, the mandate to make us owners of the things of the world. The mandate of masculinity is a mandate of ownership (in the first place, of women’s body).

Capitalist modernity takes up, accelerates and extends the project of devitalizing the world and turning it into something that can be owned. In the brutal cut between the sensible and the intelligible, the sensible is depreciated (it is impure, deceitful, chaotic) and the intelligible is identified with calculation. Matter is stripped of its own vibration, of its immanent principle of movement and self-organisation, of its “divinity”.

The violence that breaks out everywhere today is the product of this proprietary drive. A “pedagogy of cruelty” is necessary to educate us to treat the world as merchandise, as an object that can be owned (and to enjoy it): trafficking and sexual exploitation, violence against migrants, conquering and predatory aggression… The pedagogy of cruelty seeks to teach us to “distance” the world in order to subjugate, control, and exploit it. It desensitises us.

Women’s movements are subversive because they reject the “mimetic desire” – to oppose the adversary by copying their methods and ultimately wanting the same thing – and embody another paradigm, one which recognises and aspires to bonds. It is not the search for a utopia or the model of what should be, but the ability to act here and now. It is not an abstract ideological principle, but the ability to improvise and meet specific needs. It is not the apocalyptic time of the decisive moment, but the time of the processes of life.

To start anew, to start anew with ourselves

The End is over, now it’s time to “reanimate responsive centres” (Lawrence), to “repopulate the world of bonds” (Segato).

Apocalyptic reason is the passion for the absolute: the final solution, the radical new beginning. But the End never comes, the catastrophe is never as total as we expected. That is why, as the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot said, “the apocalypse disappoints”. Only those who lived on illusions are disappointed.

All or nothing, now or never, victory or death: the revolution was also thought of in the 20th century as an apocalypse, with disastrous results. Because there is no End, there is no end to History, there is no last word, the struggle is without end: life begins all the time. Emancipatory temporality is that of the process, that of the continuum, that of the endless.

Restarting is not repeating, but starting from what there is and creating something different. All creation is recreation. Nothing that was is really finished, it can always be prolonged; to reanimate and reactivate the powers of the past. Let us learn from the indigenous communities that lived through their own end of the world 500 years ago and resist, insist, continue to exist.

Fear of the End does not activate, but deters. The catastrophe to come, paralyses. Today it is the very method of government: “us or chaos”. It is necessary to oppose, to the apocalyptic imaginary of the End, a logic of resumption, of starting again and reconnecting. The apocalypse has already happened. Now is the time – it is always the time – to resume with life. Furthermore, there will be a future.

This entry was posted in Commentary and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.