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apocalypse now

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If we Lombrosoed the best, wide-panning footage from recent collapse/catastrophe/dystopian films, we might well come up with something like this still I’ve just sniffed out of a HD version of the trailer of Blindness. From what I can tell / remember, looks like downtown Shanghai, though I’m probably wrong. The empty-tank abandoned cars, the gray-scale midrise blocks smothering the tight highway in the center. No one’s been around to sweep up casual debris for awhile.

Whether from environmental catastrophe or meteor strike, heatwave or coldwave, terror attack or ultra-SARS, vampires or the end of female fecundity, the mass blindness or bad politics or cannibalistic rage, we always end up here, under a gray sky, walking where we shouldn’t with shopping bags.

We even build the scenario into our fanciest new parks:

There’s lots to say about this. The least interesting thing, perhaps, is that, sure, everyone’s writing allegories and slantsenses of the same imminent catastrophe that really is around the corner, involving peak oil and the like. (It’s a bit more interesting to consider why they don’t simply make a movie about that. No fun, I guess, to see the shit that’s really about to hit the fan, but I don’t think that’s it. More pertinent is the trouble it takes to narrativize / visualize it, as it moves slow and mostly out of sight).

And more interesting, I think, are a few things that are a bit more obliquely there. A sense of possible or even manditory trespass on public grounds where you’re not, in normal times, supposed to walk. It’s a form of desperate liberation, and has a childlike fun adhering to it I think.

Also, there’s the entire question of the role of these gray ersatz buildings, the way they signal a catastrophe that had perhaps already started, that began perhaps even when the first nomadic sheepherders decided to put their tents up along a single path, then some travelling salesman came along and decided to stay put and just sell to them. Or maybe it’s the modernness of the architecture – the way the non-descript individuality of each building mirrors and matches that of the folks walking on the street. A generic family, a kid generically holding a parent’s hand, just as the building on the left has balconies you can enclose if you want, and the one next to it has a different sort of balcony, etc…

The uncollected rubish (you can imagine a crew sprinkling the set with little strips of paper, cuttings of plastic bags. Maybe someone even wedged that one down in the sewer inlet) brings to mind both a street party, a parade, before the cleanup crews pass through. Or is it just the everyday trash that flutters on city streets that aren’t well kept (like mine, I’ve quickly noticed…) because there’s no one left to collect it. The failure of services, of the civic, of public employment. The wind will take care of that, the ocean will collect it, as there simply isn’t the cash on hand, we’re in a crisis don’t you know, structural adjustments will have to be made, sacrifice the clean streets for the sake of…

The gray sky, of course, is more than just a marker of the weather. Sure, of course, it’s global warming, polution, the hot and damp that will soon enough mark the other season, all over the world, in its oscillation with hot and dry. But it’s also the lidness that keeps us in, that keeps our thoughts cycling on two-axes, the axes that run through this picture and these films and our gasping lack of hope for change – the wider weather that means the furtherest left we know how to get is the circulation of fantasies, like this one and all the rest it stands for, of our imminent and increasingly visible demise.

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 26, 2008 at 12:56 pm

6 Responses

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  1. I admit I just love all this shit, and am not sure why: perhaps the empire in ruin, dire as its real implications may be, provides a palliative for various ongoing projects of rage. I also think that the image-sensibility at which you’re looking — the gray, dead buildings; the exhausted roadways — calculates a quite particular experience of the present that I have taken to calling “infrastructure-nostalgia” (this is part of the “worldsystemaffect” project), which is only figuratively apocalyptic and more closely tied to the ongoing process of financialization, of experienced detachment from the “real economy” and the scene of the industrial. Vinyl fetishism figures somehow. I gave a talk somewhat connected to this, last week; URL available on request. Hope your summer of reading is swimming!


    June 26, 2008 at 3:31 pm

  2. we always end up here, under a gray sky, walking where we shouldn’t with shopping bags.

    You win the Interwebs! Seriously, wonderfully written. Travel agrees with your prose. That said, I’m still not sure what “Lombrosoed” means, but that’s probably because I’ve read far too much of him to capture the general sense.


    June 26, 2008 at 8:16 pm

  3. Jane,

    I’m gonna write you about some of that when I get a spare moment.


    Thanks! I had fun writing it because, just like Jane, I just love all this shit. By Lombrosoed I simply meant composite photoed, like the “ideal criminal” photo superimpositions. Did I get it wrong? That’s a part of it, no? If not, I probably have a lot of explaining to do to classes that I taught in a distant part of the world and, now, years ago.


    June 26, 2008 at 8:20 pm

  4. It’s actually Galton, Darwin’s cousin, who came up with the composite photography. (More than you ever wanted to know about it here.) Lombroso codified the Galton with Bertillion’s scientific measuring system.


    June 26, 2008 at 11:39 pm

  5. “Galtoned” doesn’t sound as good as a verb. I dunno….

    Yeah but a quick glance suggests that you’re in fact right. To change or not to change? I’ll sleep on it.


    June 26, 2008 at 11:56 pm

  6. “infrastructure-nostalgia”–good term, as in first 4 pages of Didion’s novel ‘The Last Thing He Wanted’: When 1-800 calls started, we still knew the location which corresponded to all calls we were making. By 1996, when she wrote that, it had for some time already been almost anywhere in the U.S. you might be talking to, now it’s much further evolved in various ways. To reach any NYC Chase branch, you no longer call a 212 number, but rather an 800 number, and they are anywhere too; you can no longer use a direct number for a branch and if you’re on a pay phone you’ll wait too long to be connected to one most likely even if they will do it. Local post office tel. #’s the same–no longer reachable. I think I first noticed the absence of rings after dialing around 2002, and that was Chase when they stilll had 212 numbers. By now, we rarely think of the location at the end of any of these #’s, and if you need tech support for your Hewlett Packard object, you are getting to know India in a much more intense way than you really wanted to when you were first hoping to eventually see Jain temples.

    I’m always thinking about these things, though, and think that it has actually become easier to find a lot of the old things than it was a couple of years ago, because they somehow persist anyway. The thrust is usually to see their disappearance, and in that case the proportion is off, because you’re looking for signs of the disappearance, not the persistence–as when I was surprised that e-commerce is growing but still only a small part of retail commerce, much smaller than I had ‘wanted to imagine’ in order to cultivate the pleasurable sadness of the nostalgia. And then you’ll read about trends of slowing down of online shopping, because people think the computer makes it ‘feel like work’, as opposed to going to the brick-and-mortar shops. Even DeLillo exaggerates the finality of ‘the last buildings’, as in ‘Cosmopolis.’

    Patrick J. Mullins

    June 27, 2008 at 1:59 pm

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