The following is the second and final part of a two-part article. Published earlier in the week, Part I provides a necessary Preamble and Theses I-IX.
Something of Shia LaBeouf’s name stands in, perfectly, controversially, for what is now happening to us, across us, as a kind of general FKA-transing of all available terms. Around the time Caitlyn Jenner came out, there was talk of an intersectional “trans-”: a trans for race and class and even for ecographic sub-constituencies. During Occupy Wall Street, the same talk happened, and then nothing happened, and a few people said it was still on, and then nothing happened.
Intersectionality seems to be the least sustainable piece of the meme-space holodeck, frozen between false flag and essential precario. One falls back from it as Paul de Man says one relapses from material inscription — without a system of reading, nothing really happens. There is always an argument that will be accused of having abstracted too far from something abstractly named history; at which point you know you got too close to the tendons of another denudement. To say Shia LaBeouf is transing is not to make a zero-degree cypher in the same way Slavoj Zizek does Coca-Cola, a flattener that takes all the fizz out of individual social identity struggles.
There is now no time for the social identity transitions for which we must find time.
What does it mean to “Just Do It” in 2016, after Jenner’s transitioning and Beyoncé’s hyper-intersectional “Formation” video? Is there a way that the trans- is being green-screened across all semiotic divisions and that the question of transing for race and class and for the emotional and language changes of critical climate change would not be a distraction but a sharpening at the near side of rapid genetic progression? Instead of a kind of slow facing-up to a drop-down menu of locally placed oppressions, might we imagine a permanent drop-down that leaves all options open in a more pressing vortex? Shia LaBeouf is transing in that case, not simply because of some flattened out homogeneity of understanding of what trans-identity might be, but because he has explicitly done his transing as a Hollywood post-art activity. He has transed in public terms and is so so over Hollywood and avant-garde culture, which has been the case for avant-garde culture at least since Jacques Rivette’s 1971 film Out 1: Noli Me Tangere.
When @preteengallery détourns Carly Simon in October 2015 to tweet “you’re so vain I bet you think your life is about is you,” one casual effect is for the whole duology the climate wars of inscription are about (social theory versus extinction theory) to be foreshortened and multiplied. In an example of what Tom Cohen calls climate change humor, socius in this tweet is under threat from forces of meta-extinction and terre that abbreviate and wipe-out any straightforward claim to “your life,” and this is done without fuss in a moment that does not have to be either theoretic or artistic in a belated twentieth-century way to get its message across. Such is arche-pop. Such is the FKA-anthropocene. Such is Carly Simon. And such is what Catherine Malabou’s Hegel calls Vereinfachung (dialectical simplification) and the way it has of making the younger and younger get what they get younger than anyone did before (notice, for instance, the virtual semio-aesthetic neocolonialism and youth-mining of the 89plus foundation of Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets, sponsored partly of course by Alphabet).
If “Just Do It” is to mean anything rigorous now, it may connect to Sarah Wood’s “experiences of conversion,” and to her imperative to “convert your reading, writing and thinking in the light of climate change awareness. Address it; let yourself be addressed by it. Make the move.” Just do that. Just do this new this.
LaBeouf’s transing passes straight though art and all the way through the post-art phase we occupy into something else. “Shia LaBeouf” names just that situation, and his alliance with artists Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner points to a melting of proper signature effects. Watching parts of LaBeouf watching all his own movies in #ALLMYMOVIES is like watching Anna Karina’s face watching Joan of Arc’s face in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc in Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie. We need to see ourselves watching ourselves before we all die, and that is what Shia LaBeouf as a counterintuitive icon is showing.
In Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, Hélène Cixous writes, because the word “truth” exists, we may as well use it. One could say the same of the term “anthropocene.” It brackets itself, spawning its own toxicity rates and think-piece industrial complexes, timed out ahead of time, and yet like “god” or “truth” or “love,” it is now impossible to imagine language without it. In fact, where god, truth, and love are relatively constant as principles, the anthropocene, despite peak memeification and preemptive FKA-ing, can only intensify and be singularly historical as time goes on. It has to be on the anti-wane, because that is what it is. Aesthetic counter-formations develop against it, necessarily and dubiously, and yet a second-order counter-ploy is also possible: transform it through use or even over-use. Confront it. Poeticize it. Face it. Just do it. Just be it. Anything else might be a semiotic bypass, in the long run.
Born (arguably) in Paul Crutzen’s mouth as a “blurt,” the term continues like that, psychoanalytically, almost asemically indecent. Anthropocene evokes numberless chiasmic defence formations and programmable aesthetic relapses to come — easy to cash in with and easy to cash out. What is perhaps more difficult is to remember what it meant and bear it. Engineered as distraction or not, it remains stuck in the world gullet, a limit term, a virtual-war word, evoking an ultimate intersectionality whose historical tractor beam iconically continues to fail. What the hyper-anthropocene breaks open is the historicist principle that nothing matters so much that that thing is the only thing that matters. The hyper-anthropocene quakes this idea, and then falls in line.
Following Benjamin, McKenzie Wark has consistently argued that there are worse things now than capitalism and that hyper-finance may simply be a symptom. The same could be said of social identity politics, whose own breakdown is in motion via the Internet as a new world order of self-feeding stasis. That Marx’s late more ecological writings have just been discovered pretty much equals Treppenwitz der Weltgeschichte (the staircase joke of world history). There is heat in the signscape now, more than a bout of mad symbolic pressure. Something is happening, and right at and not beyond individual accounting, it is happening to us, to all of us. It becomes less and more possible to know about whom or what one is speaking when there are some who seem to venture to exploit what is happening against others and for ends that are not always clear, while others try to protect themselves by pretending to be able to protect others against what is happening, which, since nobody necessarily knows what it is, may be counterproductive. Facebook timeline hypomnemata ally theatre comedy as old as the sun.
What might the link now be between art and the anthropocene? What does poetry have to do with the anthropocene as a kind of geomorphic formlessness, a trans without center or line, a khoratic tornado? Formlessness seems to have exploded in poetry long before the logic of poetry comes along to break it up or down into the formal human constituencies that channel and express it. At first, notionally speaking, poetry is as if merely the human and can be seen to graduate beyond itself toward the formless non-human only to the extent that it then rhythmically cedes back, recuperative always, poetry alone, doing what poetry alone does best, only poetry can do, only poetry: metros, measure, metric, limit. What is the limit that the poetic form expresses? Whose limit is it, ours, or the form’s? And what form does the tension take between form and formlessness? Can it be expressed as aversion? Is there even a trace?
The final blackout at the end of The Sopranos is audacious because it interrupts the almost decade-long sequence of classic-al televisual form that preceded it. What was left was not a conclusion but the fade-from-static HBO ident as an update on the caesura that Benjamin quotes and accelerates in Goethe’s Elective Affinities, this moment in which “something beyond the poet interrupts the language of poetry.” What exploded tele-visually long ago in poetry was never the exclusive concern of, for example, poetry. The aversion to the poetic form, an energy that radiates early and is expressed only as poetry, is the line-breaking act as aversion to prosaic continuance of sense. It is also a prohibition of the eco-suicide still on, a preferment of the socius and the human in the very moment of seeming to open up what is still too much their flexible dialectic. One can spot straightaway that the structure of the poetic is chiasmic (something it shares, according to de Man, with relapse).
Another element is opening up form to and from some new relation to itself, a breach that is always what form allowed to happen in the first place, spilling out. Timothy Morton makes a scandal out of this in “Art in the Age of Asymmetry” when he writes, the “sunny Classical marriage of form and content at the altar of human meaning, might now be seen, in a more ecological age, as resembling a shotgun wedding in which one party, the nonhuman, uncomplainingly submits to the will of the other.” Morton’s point is thrillingly untenable (at least for us) because it evokes an entirely different metrics, an inhuman metros, out of sight again, as if submerged and made out only in hints, an impossible renunciation of the cost content pays to enter in as human aesthetic form.
Throughout Benjamin’s Goethe essay, a negotiation is constantly made between different types or strata of content. In fact, Benjamin’s critical subtlety here, so embedded and hard to hear, already goes beyond commentary, criticism, and even counter-rhythmic injunction. In what discourse does one take a stand and ask the hyper-juridical question of the relative priorities of different types of content and strata, different rhythms, beats, arrhythmias, and enforced asthenias that spill out somewhere between and over the human and nonhuman in as much as they were conceived or now taken for granted as a joint scan or patch, versing aversely through all forms of form?
When Benjamin discusses the land and the estate of the baroness in Goethe’s novel, he speaks of how this allows all the more clearly for “the magnetic power of the earth” to speak. Like Little Father’s disappearance from the estate to the village in Melancholia, which leads Justine to wander about in the long grass as if under the influence of the same “tellurian element” of hidden lakes in a cinderous faux-snow, Goethe’s characters are determined by a preletteral flaky static. Might gravity glassify and become marmoreal? Are the elective affinities “the particular harmony of the deeper natural strata?” What do we see when we see lightning magnetized from Justine’s hands, and which might be expressed only in a certain coarseness of expression? Is poetry the limit, then, of the subject, of I, or of the objective world, or the X-point where these two or more forces meet, occluding? Can different forms be recognized as different ways being appears in the world and different ways the world appears? And if so, in what form, in art, does the “anthropocene” come? In what formless formal relation does it want to reach us now, if at all?
Not to turn against, move beyond, repudiate, or fixate on the term “anthropocene,” nor simply to add to or endorse the list of prefix-cognates that now live nearby — sino-anthropocene, cine-anthropocene, hyper-anthropocene, misanthropocene, corporatocene, capitalocene, sustainocene, chthulucene, neganthropocene, and so on — but to do something else. Through the license of literary implication or hermetic wittiness, the term “anthropocene” may come through even better and with more reserve, as a sheer “it,” or as the theatrics and scenography of an elision (scene, crime scene, stage, stadium, or something far more oblique). The word’s absence also does nothing more than alert the reader to it even more, placing the psychic burden elsewhere — the paradoxical effect of a use of discretion for an open secret. One minimally alternative gesture here is to turn within the letters of the word “anthropocene,” stuttering a new vocable poetics: ana-anthro-po-ematic-scene.
What perhaps nobody would want to admit at this point is that the premature death dealt to the anthropocene as an explicit theme as if by the world avant aesthetic’s remote decision (better leave it alone to better let it in) is the death extinction studies has now dealt to the anthropocene as a term after consideration. The switch points of this situation are admittedly hard to track, as singular as any animal or artwork, almost a question of who wants to get on top or below by implicating or explicating the most. There may even be something non-karmically unforgivable about the silent treatment dished out by “the poets” to the anthropocene as such. However dressed up as finesse and reticence, it also remains to be read as a failure of nerve, even though the lapse can hardly been seen as intended or amoral. The best work of extinction studies seems for now on a better footing, because the acting out of necessary open secrets in some contemporary art and writing seems coy and overly polite when the rapacious irreversibility of critical climate change (not just the weather) now reads off as an open secret that is so obvious as to admit itself in all (not) saying all along.
Where extinction studies has a strong suit is that the too obvious to say for “the poets” is from the point of view of anyone who has read a little differently a dubious feint: one thing that theory (not the one created out of historical semio-defence formations and usually nicknamed “post-structuralism”) gives us is an extremely nuanced language of the relations between explication and implication, the votive and accusative dimensions of language, what goes without saying as precisely what is already being said and so may as well be spat out or, rather, already is — something increasingly harder to learn not (not) to talk about than we think. Derrida’s pirouette in Comment ne pas parler on Wittgenstein — that whereof one cannot speak one must speak — is a useful repressed index at this point. When the poets and company cast off “theory,” they merely replay a holocenic aesthetic ideology of showing and not telling. That showing may be good as belles lettres, as radical art attempting to say what language cannot in a dream of humanity’s comeback (through art objects we survive after all, or witness ourselves dying in dispassionate empathy, just like at the end of The Day After Tomorrow), but the thing repeated is this: what is so obvious it hardly needs speaking is also so obvious (monstrously and traumatically so) it hardly needs not speaking; it can hardly not be already speaking or hardly not be spoken at all.
What Cohen calls the climate change unconscious writes itself all over, everywhere, and reticence with regard to it can now feel contrived at best, aesthetically tragic at worst, a constant slip of the tongue, a silent Tourettes. What the work of Cohen and Claire Colebrook misses, however, is the opportunity to have kept shtum about a term whose death they have precisely calibrated and could have been kept quiet only for others to work on. The reality is that nobody has kept shtum or now could, even as we enter a phase of savage robo-denihilism and staged eco-panic of which Donald Trump is the latent hieroglyph. The term (anthropocene, FKA), to be imagined to have lasted approximately from 2000 to 2016 alone (it will of course also go on), might now be figured as a kind of penultimate fetish term (a byword, swallowed name, choke limit) over which silent inscriptive battles were and still will be fought between a marked echographicism and a poetico-hermetic line of resistance (both on the same side, but neither willing to share recon info).
That nobody wins is proof that such a mal-animus existed to issue something like language in the first place: the sheer incompatability and mutual prohibition of codes few want to speak of for too long. The lack of common ground is the quake, the originary polemos, of those who occlude the socius and those who occlude the terre, and is the business of art Beckett got so bored of in 1949, the aestheticized robotics at the expense of all it excludes. This is not a scene of guilt or castigation, or of tearing down of makers of art to call them bad, but it is a phase that cannot not be remarked (here it is) and an opportunity for different names, voices, sexes and non-sexes, ill-equipped, unclassed, a mistakism and pure feed beyond the aesthetic formalism of class and the robo-denihilism of all semiotic activity.
The term “anthropocene” might be taken as a catechrestic ally for what Colebrook and Cohen call “critical climate change,” indicating not just the relatively small sector of “global warming” or “ecology” or “environmentalism,” but also climate wars, resource finitude and depredation, the Pacific Gyre, accelerating species extinction (including our own), austerity aporiae, environmental racism, ge(n)ocide, unofficial “population culling,” the occlusion of the ecological under the economic, the fetish of local and identity politics as a repression of conditions of life, a politics of something more urgent than people as something that might now be more important to people, the literary structure of climate change, cultural capital as occlusion, the toxicity of meaning, climate change comedy, the addiction to reference, aesthetic relapse, new shipping routes through the Arctic, Canvey Island flood depth velocity case studies, and so on — the whole fractal set in fact, in which case “climate change” becomes a sort of euphemistic non-name for something more urgent than urgency: the demand of a certain journalistic “today,” an impending sense of public and constant seminar.
In one sense, “climate change” begins to name a new type and experience of everything in thought, art, life, and politics. It makes possible the experience of a thinking attentive to different everythings and everyones, a non-hierarchical understanding of cosmos, and a sense that everything and everyone may be collectively and individually accountable — accountable, not culpable or guilty. Complicity and accountability are usefully distinguished here from guilt and karma. Astir in a move beyond or before the remit of technique and profession is a semioliquidity, a relaxation, a transing into drafts and rushes, into what Wood calls “an experience of necessity that opens beyond the university, towards the necessity of thinking everything in relation to the global future on a finite earth.” If you’re reading this it’s too late. And yet, if you’re not reading or thinking this, we might already be gone.
Perhaps Facebook is precisely what we are talking about. Imagine a global language surge and empting out of data and memes as if through this we might finally see something, bottoming out just to a blushing diagram of addictogenesis and eco-suicide. There is what Beckett said in Three Dialogues and then perhaps withdrew from: “All that should concern us is the acute and increasing anxiety of the relation itself, as though shadowed more and more darkly by a sense of invalidity, of inadequacy, or existence at the expense at of all that it excludes, all that it blinds to.”
Who will care about the term “anthropocene,” FKA or otherwise, in 500 years? By then it will have been co-opted many more times over, leaving nothing but an ontico-ontological tang for the future dissident robot. Every click and like and follow may have zero impact on the centrifugal drift of semio-biological-aesthetic systems already set for millennia to come, kicking a storm up at the race riots in heaven for nothing. Facebook is the last real museum, and the anthropocene is forever and not just for life. The role of the radical intellectual, militant black anti-white artist, and trans activist ally may now be no more than auxillary to a broader transition whose shape can hardly be secured. The most exoteric and beautifully dense moments of aesthetic singularism would be known by their buy-back gradient. Some things simply do not end well or ever come back.
The most moving part of Macbeth is what takes place between “and” and “and,” between “Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done, is done” and “Give me your hand. What’s done cannot be undone.” Lady Macbeth will say the Mez quant ja est la chose fecte, ne peut pas bien estre (But when a thing is already done, it cannot be undone) twice. In the first instance, it is as an exhortation to Macbeth as to a boy, as if to someone unable to get over it. She is telling him to forget something that he has done, the thing, the murder, the blood on our hands, even though she shared in it. The second time she has lost a child and is about to take her own life. What’s done cannot be undone, she says. She kills herself, because by then things are impossible to go without regard. We might be there, whoever isn’t.
What can occur now when a certain leash snaps (on its own): the slow dissolve of social identity politics into something else, the figuring that liberal and radical intellectuals accelerate the doubling down of the hosts they complain about, a savage reaffirmation of ironic denial that can never fully settle into itself, until it does. Cheat on your own lives and allow the hyper-elite who are now hosted to be your host. Put your money on the hyper-elite. Stop thinking. It was already decided long ago, and perhaps only they can save us.