Thursday, January 27, 2011

good grief

Both Slavoj Zizek and Dipesh Chakrabarty (whose article Zizek draws on for his discussion of the Anthropocene Epoch (which would succeed the Holocene) begin their writings on "new" ecology with the imagination of the end of times. It is the nature of this exercise in imagination, and not the fact of inevitability that goes along with it for Zizek, that captures my attention. For Zizek, imagining the end is equal to believing it, which again represents the coveted fidelity of Badiou, and thus the structure of imagining-believing allows the audacity of his remarks to rest not on the content of what he is saying (although naively, we might think that, or he might want us to think that, indeed), but on the convergence of imagining-believing and the environmental inevitability of the end times. The element of inevitability does not exist in the end times, but is a result of Zizek's argumentation. It would be fine if Zizek were saying that we are living in the end times, and perhaps more interesting, at that. In contrast to the argument that he presents, in which the imminent feeling of dread at the end causes a reaction that is both collective and psychological, an argument for the end times might elaborate more usefully what Chakrabarty calls the "contemporary moods of anxiety and concern about the finitude of humanity" ("The Climate of History," Critical Inquiry 35 (Winter 2009) 197). Zizek, however, structures his argument to follow the five stages of grief defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying: denial, anger, negotiation, depression, and acceptance. Perhaps this is the (only) thing shocking (and I struggle to define it, that is, the element of the alarming that the book produced in me)--the language of trauma and catastrophe tied up here, in spite of the book's efforts to talk about trauma not as an event, but as something ongoing. In what way, then, are these five stages applicable? The impossibility of imagining one's own death, seemingly at the middle of things for Zizek, does not hold here. Why should these stages cohere as some kind of structure of normal grief? Where does disorder come in? Or the idea that symptoms of any given stage could be so diverse as to alter a given stage for any given body? the radical subject must be capable of good grief... bad grief, on the other hand, accounts for the rise of fundamentalism in Middle Eastern oil states, the slipping of potential Left movements off track.

picture: Iceberg B-15. Josh Landis, The National Science Foundation 29 January 2001.