Ride or die? Mark Bould and the Fast-and-Furiocene

WHAT IS JANE Austen’s Novel mansfield park (1814), DC Comics Swamp Thing (1971), and the Sharknado film franchise (2013-18) have in common? According to Mark Bould’s new book, The Anthropocene Unconscious: The Culture of Climate Catastrophe, they’re all about climate change. In reality, all cultural texts deal with climate change in one way or another, if we learn to read not for climate as the main actor, but for its latency, its exclusion and what distracts us from it. For all of the book’s somewhat playful irreverence to low-intellect and intellectual cultural distinctions, Bould makes a compelling case for what cultural critique should be in the Anthropocene, and he does so in the hope of reduce some of the slow violence and injustices of the many and unevenly distributed effects of climate change.

Bould’s argument, particularly in the first half of his book, is pointed squarely and unabashedly at Amitav Ghosh, whose 2016 book, The Great Disruption: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, continues to be a pivotal text on literature and the climate crisis. In The great inconvenience, Ghosh argues that contemporary writers do not address the topic of climate change enough. In a climate-changed future where humans seek proof of its impending doom in the art and literature of the past, Ghosh writes that they will fail to find it and will be forced to conclude “that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into modes of concealment that prevented people from acknowledging the realities of their plight[.]Bould wastes no time ignoring Ghosh’s speculation: “That is, of course, nonsense.

Bould is right, I think, to criticize Ghosh’s disregard for the many sites that have long posed climate problems. Science fiction is, according to many science fiction scholars, the indisputable predecessor of what is now commonly referred to as “climate fiction”. In short, a critique of Ghosh’s elitism feeds The Anthropocene Unconscious Right off the bat: Bould focuses on lowbrow and popular culture throughout his analysis. Moreover, in chapter three, he reads exactly the texts that Ghosh claimed to be not on the climate fiction against him, showing that in fact, they are too. In short, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that one of the book’s major contributions is its brazen confrontation with what is often seen as a seminal text in climate change fiction and scholarship.

The variety of texts, media and genres covered in this book is often unexpected and impressive in scope. Each demonstrates that no matter where one looks, one will find that “the Anthropocene is the unconscious of ‘the art and literature of our time’. » Climate change can be found in the disturbances due to the effects of climate change in the text. Topics such as the histories of slavery and colonialism can be found, both as events and structures that contributed and continue to contribute to climate change, in some cases. silences on the subjects of the text or refusal by characters to answer questions about slavery – for example, in mansfield park. Bould writes:[C]The ritics are not bathyspheric explorers probing the textual depths. At no point do we even need to break the surface. The clamor of the unsaid is everywhere. Rather, he imagines the work of the critic in the Anthropocene to “make the text speak”.

the Sharknado franchise is the prime example of where the Anthropocene unconscious lurks. Bould argues that despite only one utterance of the words “climate change” in all five films, the franchise features the consequences of anthropogenic climate change throughout. Admittedly, it is a bit difficult to see what exactly is “unconscious” in the Anthropocene in this example where the tornadoes surrounded by sharks are the main event and one of the films is even titled Global Swarm. The films contain dozens of “[l]ludicrous, crudely rendered images of climate change,” as Bould writes. But these “big dumb reminders” are precisely the overblown evidence of climate change that suggests real disaster lurks just below the surface. In part, it’s a point about the technological details of image editing and CGI distracting rather than overtly addressing the effects of climate change.

It would be impossible to detail all the texts covered in this book, because each chapter moves quickly from one genre and one medium to another, even from one century to another and from one continent to another. . Suffice it to say that after leaving the waters of Sharknado and the landscapes of the zombie apocalypse in the first chapter, we then migrate into the “commonplace novel”. What interests Bould about the banal novel, which he says developed in 18th century Europe, is that it focuses on the ordinary, the regularity of everyday life and a notion of bourgeois individualism. . Bould refutes the notion that bounded individualism was (or still is) a function of the new form through a number of examples that demonstrate the larger, unconscious role of climate change and its layered histories. While it might seem like something as vast and distributed as climate change would have little obvious place in the mundane novel, it situates it again and again convincingly. mansfield park, for example, is a story about what some have called the Plantation-o-cene (instead of the Anthropocene) because of how the enslavement and forced labor of black Africans can be said to have initiated the ‘Anthropocene. In the novel, for example, Fanny Price, staying at the Bertram estate, which depends on the Antiguan plantations, asks questions about slavery, but only gets silence in return. The numerous silences in the texts examined (Paul Auster, Lucy Ellmann and the 4,000-page autobiographical novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard are also studied) reveal the ways in which the Anthropocene unconscious can also be operative in the service of disempowerment or a refusal to acknowledge the complicity in the continuing history of slavery and forced labor that continues to underpin the conditions of the Anthropocene.

While chapter three analyzes three novelists against Ghosh’s claims in The great inconvenience (including novels by Ghosh himself), in chapter four Bould reads Arthur C. Clarke and J.G. Ballard alongside Mauro Herce’s contemporary art cinema (Dead slowly forward, 2015), Ryan Gosling (lost river, 2014), Lucile Hadžihalilović (Evolution, 2015), and others. He tells a lot of novels and movies in this book, but his description of Mauro Herce Dead slowly forward was for me the most poetic and captivating writing in the book (“There is water above and below. The machinery sounds like a whale song. Aquatic, amniotic, as if we were carried and born out of this world and into another”). The film presents a developmental narrative that disrupts the temporal forward march of industrial time, what Bould calls a “time mismatch between humans and physics.” The reading of the concept of “development” in the film is simply magnificent; it’s about time clots and time shifts, lost connections and severed ties, and, in the background, a throbbing turbine and the distant groan of machines. Moving from water to trees, the final chapter, “We Am Groot,” examines trees to elicit an environmental weirdness that blurs the distinctions between animate and inanimate, human and non-human. Again, we move between unlikely bedfellows: Andrey Zvyagintsev’s movies to DC’s Swamp Thing, Marvel’s Man-Thing to Groot, a humanoid tree that can talk, but only to announce itself: “I am Groot”. Bould describes at least two forms of environmental weirdness, which can insist on a kind of nonhuman vitality “embedded in our environment” and in which nonhumans must, and which can be explained in a multitude of ways and in dozens of texts. “It’s not a hopeless case,” he writes, to include other species and beings in human cultural imaginaries and social orders.

As irreverent and playful as the book is, it also does the serious work of modeling a kind of critical practice—not reserved for scholars, but rather one that should be widely used as a mode of reading in and for the Anthropocene. Bould writes that the more prevalent this type of critique, the withdrawal of the unconscious from the Anthropocene, “the greater our chances of bridging the gap between, on the one hand, too few/too late/if no at all to climate catastrophe […] and on the other, a flourishing biosphere in which we too thrive. The Anthropocene Unconscious believes in the work of the critic in this mode to transform the world, or the planet, by reading differently. In this case, reading for the unconscious of the Anthropocene opens wide the plurality and multitude of narratives and stories that must all be recognized as contributing to the so-called Anthropocene. It teaches that it is not possible to extract cultural object from the quagmires of capitalism, colonialism, histories of slavery, land dispossession and genocide that continue to fuel what we call the Anthropocene. Of course, these permanent structures of violence are not compatible with the longevity of this planet or its many human and non-human inhabitants.

So Bould gives us two choices on the last page, where we end up in what he calls (much to my delight) the “Fast-and-Furiocene”: ride or die. To choose to roll is to choose to pursue something other than death for the planet and its inhabitants, that is ecosocialism. But the choice is complicated, especially in a world in which, as Bould writes, we are somehow trapped and over which we feel we have no direct control. It is also indeed too late for many biophysical processes already underway that will have terribly devastating effects on the planet. Bould does not deny these facts, but, precisely because of them, rather points out that we can always—indeed, must—be responsible for how certain impending disasters, and their respite, are distributed now and in the future.


Alison Sperling is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Technical University of Berlin and an affiliated researcher at the ICI Institute for Cultural Inquiry Berlin.

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