Who is the Subject of Climate Change? – 气候变化的主题是谁?

Feature - 30 May 2018

Who is the Subject of Climate Change?

Thoughts on an unpredictable series of local disasters

By Roy Scranton

Commissioned photography by Matthieu Lavanchy

Monday, 9 April 2018. 4:35am

I shake a Starbucks VIA into my cup and turn on the electric kettle. Dust rings form around a spinning nebula, debris colliding and flattening into discs orbiting its collapsing centre, hydrogen nuclei smash and fuse, exploding, birthing a star. While I wait for the water to boil, I check Twitter. Solar wind flares through the rings, scattering loose debris and burning off the smaller discs, while others, dense enough to survive, become spheres, crusts of rock cooling around molten cores. I watch video footage of a gas attack in Douma, Syria: limbs splayed on a bunker floor, blank eyes, green, wax-like children’s faces.

When the kettle clicks, I fill my cup, relishing the bitter aroma of the water mixing with the powder. Originally emerging in the highlands of Ethiopia, coffee is now a global commodity crop, grown in equatorial regions around the world, threatened by drought, berry borer beetles, leaf rust fungus and increasing temperatures; threatened, that is, by climate change. I recall a recent review of a book about a Yemeni-American man, Mokhtar Alkhanshali, who dreams of importing beans from his country of origin and I think about the war going on there, which I do not understand – but only for a moment. 


Who is the Subject of Climate Change? - 气候变化的主题是谁?


Theia smashes glancingly into the Earth, vaporizing its outer layers, shifting the planet’s path around the sun, blasting rock into space that then coalesces, over time, into a moon. The Earth’s orbit stabilizes, oceans form, clouds form, comets and meteors strike the planet’s surface. Life begins. I flip my egg-white omelette onto my plate and pour a new cup of coffee, this one made from Guatemalan beans roasted in Valparaiso, Indiana, brewed in a moka pot that always reminds me of living in Berlin after I got out of the army, and also of the third-floor apartment in Bushwick I subleased the summer I first moved to New York. I can still smell the loamy aroma of Bustelo brewing, feel the smothering humidity of an August day already warm by seven in the morning, and see the lurid greenery glowing wild in the apartment block’s empty back lot. Outside it’s snowing, adding to the impression that winter will never end, yet the National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that Arctic winter sea ice recently reached its second-lowest maximum area ever recorded, not quite matching the record low set last year.

While I eat, I read Alain Badiou’s introduction to Being and Event (2001). I’m hoping to find something useful for thinking about our contemporary moment – specifically our global failure to imagine a universal human subject who might respond to climate change. Badiou argues that the subject, as such, ‘is nothing other than an active fidelity to the event of truth’; I’m not sure yet what he means by truth, but it seems to be a kind of procedural, transcendental ideality. As Badiou writes: ‘The being of truth, proving itself an exception to any preconstituted predicate of the situation in which that truth is deployed, is to be called “generic”. In other words, although it is situated in a world, a truth does not retain anything expressible from that situation. A truth concerns everyone inasmuch as it is a multiplicity that no particular predicate can circumscribe. The infinite work of a truth is thus that of a “generic procedure”. And to be a subject (and not a simple individual animal) is to be a “local active dimension of such a procedure”.’

Events are ruptures within pre-existing situations that produce truths. For Badiou, there are four and only four kinds of events, four and only four kinds of truth procedures: political, artistic, scientific and amorous. I suspect that neither climate change nor any particular climate disaster would be, for Badiou, an event, properly speaking, since these are things that happen to human beings, not situations through which human beings produce truth. Rain may fall, wind may blow, ice may melt and seas may rise, but nowhere present is the human action that produces truth: no politics, no art, no science, no love. Or is there?

What would it take, I wonder, to produce a militant subject faithful to the truth of climate change? Only a global communist revolution, it seems. What appeals to me in Badiou specifically is his recuperation of Maoism, which suggests a way to turn the hive mind created by social media into some kind of collective for climate jihad. But how? White strobes reflect off the blue dawn behind the kitchen window, a school bus stops to pick up children, and I remember with a mild sense of alarm that today is recycling day. I put on a coat and boots and go out into the snow, wheel/drag the recycling bin out to the corner, then return to Badiou, feeling my way into the labyrinth of his thought, groping for some lever with which to move the world.


A distant star goes hypernova, sending gamma rays through space 6,000 light years and more, blasting the Earth, stripping the ozone layer from the atmosphere. Almost 85 percent of all marine species – most life on Earth – is wiped out, killed by the ultraviolet solar radiation now piercing the ozoneless sky. The planet cools, causing sea levels to drop dramatically as water is frozen in glaciers and ice caps, including one over the supercontinent Gondwana at its south pole. I tweet a National Public Radio story about an Iraqi man who says: ‘Those who came after are worse than Saddam,’ then go to the copy machine to scan in edits to galley proofs. While I scan pages, the copy machine pumps out my colleagues’ coursework: Chinese exams, an essay on W.E.B. Du Bois, an article about whether cats can eat carrots.

Later, I’m teaching Laurie Penny’s sci-fi novella Everything Belongs to the Future (2016). It’s set in a dystopian near-future in which anti-ageing drugs have allowed the rich to extend their lifetimes indefinitely. In the novel, some well-meaning young bohemians turn from activism to terrorism when one of the drug’s creators develops a time bomb that causes people to age decades in seconds, often fatally. The allegory is a little neat, but it’s a fun story. One interesting detail within the book’s future world is that, since the rich now live so much longer, they have a personal interest in fighting climate change, and successfully do so. Nevertheless, despite climate change having been ‘solved’, the activists’ futility and frustration – their closed sense of a world in which the unjust distribution of an inherently limited resource (time) creates vast inequalities that cannot be magicked away by technological innovation or wished away by reference to some liberal-capitalist notion of progress – feels acutely of our moment, the manic Malthusian apocalypticism characterizing the Anthropocene.

The Ordovician-Silurian extinction is followed 70-odd million years later by the Late Devonian extinction, which is followed just over 100 million years later by the Permian-Triassic extinction event, which is followed 50 million years later by the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, which is followed almost 150 million years later by the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which is followed almost 70 million years later by the Holocene extinction event, currently ongoing, caused not by the collision of planetary bodies or by a distant hypernova’s ozone-stripping gamma rays, but by human beings.


Who is the Subject of Climate Change? - 气候变化的主题是谁?


In my graduate fiction workshop, we talked about M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! (2008), an excerpt from William S. Burroughs’s Nova Express (1964), two short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ (1940) and ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’ (1939), along with an Omer Fast video, CNN Concatenated (2002), which I made them watch. My point in assigning these texts was to help the students think about the relationship between text and reality, reality and language; how as social animals we not only inhabit physical space but, perhaps even more importantly, live within a world woven in language. As writers, as makers of language, I tell them, we weave reality.

Yet, we do not make it just as we please. We bricolage our world within the constraints of our narrow sensorium, from whatever we find at hand, from what we’ve been told is true or possible. Pockets of once-frozen methane melt and explode throughout the Siberian tundra. It’s sup-posed to reach more than 21 degrees on Friday, then drop again to one or two, with more snow forecast for Monday. I pretend to my students that what we’re doing matters, but I struggle to see what sense art and literature make in a world whose future is foreclosed. Whatever reality we make through the work of art in the present is swept up in a greater reality, a wall of water, a burning sky. Ash, ash and dust.

How many years do we have left? A few decades, more or less? And how do we live in fidelity to that truth? What would that even mean?

We tend to rely on two kinds of temporality, which the Ancient Greeks called chronos and kairos, that we might call ‘day-to-day time’ and ‘event time’. In day-to-day time, we tend to assume everything is going to be much the same as it was yesterday, happening within the predictable cycles of change to which we have become accustomed. This regular unfolding of life as we conceive it is the basis for our sense of normality, the frame that shapes our decisions and the implicit backdrop against which we judge new information. In event time, on the other hand, day-to-day rhythms are suspended. A carnivalesque mood reigns, our social structures reveal themselves as the willed collective illusions they are, and we see ourselves emerge for a moment into a clearing of nearly infinite possibility, the ‘now’ when everything can change.

These two kinds of temporality constitute a dynamic in which everything is normal until it isn’t, then there’s a new normal. Unfortunately for us, climate change doesn’t fit this dynamic, because climate change happens in geological time, planetary time, cosmic time: it is a gradual process happening year by year, punctuated not by one global event but by an unpredictable series of local disasters. Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, the monsoon floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 people in 2017, the California drought – any one of these catastrophes might have been the event which changed everything, except that each one was, in the end, no more than a regional phenomenon, swiftly superseded.

It might also be true, thinking with Badiou, that these occurrences are not events at all, but only weather. There is no ‘we’ who might respond to them, no universal political subject, because there has been no rupture creating a new truth procedure. There is no concrete ‘we’ who might respond to climate change, only an abstract scattered ‘we’ comprising billions of individuals who are all going to die individual deaths. The day-to-day time of global capitalism remains the beating pulse of our lives, even as the world around us transforms into something strange and awful. By the time the event we seem to be waiting for happens, we will have already lost too much to be able to do much about it. By the time the moment of truth arrives, our fate will have already been sealed.

I drink a beer. My partner puts our daughter to bed. Israel launches airstrikes against Syria. My body feels heavy, mostly water and carbon, and my soul, whatever that is, sinks into torpor as the end of day draws near. I hear a car go by. Somewhere far away, our planet rumbles with the birth pangs of a future that has, uncannily, already been born.

This article appears in the print edition of frieze, June/July/August 2018, issue 196, with the title 'Swept Up'.

Roy Scranton

Roy Scranton lives in South Bend, Indiana, USA. He is the author of Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (2015) and the novel War Porn (2017). His book We’re Doomed. Now What?: Essays on Climate Change (2018) is published by Soho Press.  

Featurem Roy Scranton
climate change
Matthieu Lavanchy
Art & Politics
Altered States

Issue 196

First published in Issue 196

June - August 2018

特征- 2018年5月30日谁是气候变化的主题?一个不可预知的系列灾难的Roy Scranton由Matthieu Lavanchy委托摄影星期一,2018年4月9日。4:35我把星巴克摇到杯子里,打开电水壶。尘埃环形成在一个旋转星云的周围,碎片碰撞并扁平化成盘绕其坍塌中心的圆盘,氢原子核粉碎并熔合,爆炸,恒星诞生。当我等待水沸腾时,我检查Twitter。太阳风通过圆环闪耀,散落松散的碎片,烧掉较小的圆盘,而其他的,密度足够大的话,就变成了球体,围绕着熔融岩芯的岩石结壳。我在叙利亚Douma观看了一场瓦斯袭击的视频片段:在掩体地板上散开的四肢,茫然的眼睛,绿色的,像蜡一样的孩子们的脸。当水壶喀喀响时,我把杯子装满,享受水与粉末混合的苦味。咖啡最初出现在埃塞俄比亚高地,现在是全球商品作物,生长在全球赤道地区,受到干旱、浆果虫、叶锈菌和温度升高的威胁;受气候变化的威胁。我记得最近一本关于一个也门美国男人Mokhtar Alkhanshali的书的评论,他梦想从他的原籍国进口豆类,我想到那里的战争,我不明白——但只是一瞬间。IGG 6:49,忒西亚猛烈地撞击地球,蒸发了它的外层,改变了行星绕太阳的路径,将岩石炸成空间,然后随着时间的推移,合并成一个月亮。地球的轨道稳定,海洋形成,云层形成,彗星和流星撞击地球表面。生活开始了。我把我的蛋清蛋卷翻到我的盘子里,倒了一杯新咖啡,这是一种由危地马拉咖啡豆制成的咖啡豆,在印第安娜瓦尔帕莱索烘焙,在一个摩卡壶里酿造,它总是让我想起我离开军队后住在柏林,还有我在布什威克的第三层公寓。夏天我第一次搬到纽约。我还可以闻到辛辣啤酒的香味,早晨的七天就感到暖和的湿气已经暖和了,看到了公寓楼空荡荡的背地里闪闪发亮的绿色植物。外面正在下雪,这给人留下了冬天永远不会结束的印象,但是国家冰雪数据中心报告说北极冬季海冰最近达到了有史以来第二低的最大面积,与去年创下的最低纪录不太相符。当我吃的时候,我读了Alain Badiou的《生命与事件》(2001)。我希望能找到一些有用的东西来思考我们当下的时刻——尤其是我们未能想象一个可能应对气候变化的普世主体。巴迪欧认为,这个主题,“正是对真理事件的积极忠诚”,我不确定他所说的真理是什么,但它似乎是一种程序化的、先验的理想。正如Badiou所写的:“真理的存在,证明它本身是一个例外,任何预先构成的谓词的情况下,真理被部署,被称为“通用”。换言之,虽然它位于一个世界中,但真理并不能保留从那种情况表达出来的任何东西。真理涉及每个人,因为它是一个多样性,没有特定的谓词可以限制。一个真理的无限工作就是一个“一般程序”。成为一个受试者(而不是一个简单的个体)是一个“这个过程的局部活动维度”。对Badiou来说,事件有四种,只有四种,四种,只有四种真理程序:政治、艺术、科学和多情。我怀疑气候变化和气候变化都不会对Badiou来说是一个事件,确切地说,因为这些是人类发生的事情,而不是人类产生真相的情况。雨可能会落,风会吹,冰会融化,海也会升起,但没有任何地方出现的是人类行为产生真理:没有政治,没有艺术,没有科学,没有爱。还是在那里?我想知道,要制造一个忠实于气候变化真相的好战主体,会有什么结果呢?似乎只是一场全球共产主义革命。巴迪欧对我的呼吁特别是对毛泽东主义的调适,它提出了一种将社会媒体所创造的蜂群精神转变为气候圣战的某种集体的方法。但是如何呢?白色的闪光灯反射出厨房窗户后面的蓝色黎明,一辆校车停下来接送孩子们,我记得有一种轻微的警报,今天是回收日。我穿上外套,穿上靴子,走到雪地里,把回收箱拖到拐角处,然后回到Badiou,摸索着进入迷宫的迷宫,摸索着一些撬动世界的杠杆。10:52AM一颗遥远的恒星进入超新星,在6000光年以上的空间发射伽马射线,对地球进行爆破,从大气中剥离臭氧层。近85%的海洋物种——大部分是地球上的生命——被紫外线辐射杀死,现在刺穿臭氧层的天空。这颗行星冷却,导致海平面急剧下降,因为水被冻结在冰川和冰盖中,包括在南极的冈瓦纳超级大陆上的一个。我在推特上发表了一篇关于一位伊拉克男子的全国性公共广播故事,他说:“来的人比萨达姆差,”然后去复印机扫描剪辑。在我浏览网页的时候,复印机把我的同事们的课业翻了出来:中文考试,一篇关于W.E.B.杜波伊斯的文章,一篇关于猫是否能吃胡萝卜的文章。后来,我教Laurie Penny的科幻中篇小说《一切属于未来》(2016)。它在不久的将来成为反乌托邦,其中抗衰老药物允许富人无限期延长寿命。在小说中,一些好心的年轻波希米亚人从激进主义转向恐怖主义,当时其中一种毒品的创造者发明了一种定时炸弹,使人们几十年内死亡,通常是致命的。寓言有点简洁,但这是一个有趣的故事。书中的未来世界的一个有趣的细节是,由于富人现在活得更久,他们对应对气候变化有着个人的兴趣,并成功地做到了这点。尽管如此,尽管气候变化已经“解决”了,但激进主义者的徒劳和沮丧——他们对一个世界的封闭感,在这个世界中,固有的有限资源(时间)的不公平分布造成了巨大的不平等,这些不平等不会被技术革新所驱除或希望借鉴一些自由资本主义的进步观念——我们敏锐地感受到了马尔萨斯主义的启示,它描述了人类世。Ordovician Silurian灭绝是在距今约70万年后的晚泥盆世灭绝之后,距今仅1亿多年后的二叠纪—三叠纪灭绝事件,其后是5000万年后的三叠纪-侏罗纪灭绝事件,即福罗。将近1亿5000万年后的白垩纪-古近纪灭绝事件,几乎在7000万年之后,由全新世灭绝事件,目前正在进行,不是由行星碰撞或遥远的超新星的臭氧剥落伽马射线,而是由HUMA引起的。n个存有。WebFieZeZ03YCMYK.JPG Who is the Subject of Climate Change? - 气候变化的主题是谁? 7:08PM在我的研究生小说讲习班,我们谈论了M. NourbeSe Philip的宗!(2008)摘自William S. Burroughs的《新星快报》(1964),两篇短篇小说《Jorge Luis Borges》、《Uqbar》、《奥比斯第三章》(1940)和《堂吉诃德》(1939)的作者Pierre Menard,以及《美国有线电视新闻网》(2002),我让他们观看。我指派这些文本的目的是帮助学生思考文本与现实、现实和语言之间的关系;作为社会动物,我们不仅栖息于物质空间,更重要的是,生活在一个用语言编织的世界里。作为作家,作为语言的创造者,我告诉他们,我们编织现实。然而,我们并不是按我们的意愿去做。我们在我们狭隘的感觉中枢的约束下,美化我们的世界,从我们手边发现的任何东西,从我们所说的是真实的或可能的。一度冰冻的甲烷融化袋在整个西伯利亚冻土带中爆炸。预计星期五将达到21度以上,然后再下降到一两个,星期一的降雪量会增加。我假装我的学生,我们正在做的事情,但我很难看到什么感觉艺术和文学在一个世界的未来被取消抵押品赎回权。无论我们现在通过艺术作品所做的现实,都被掩盖在一个更大的现实中,一堵墙,一片水,一片灼热的天空。灰烬、灰烬和灰尘。我们还剩下多少年了?几十年,或多或少?我们怎样才能忠于这个真理呢?那意味着什么呢?我们倾向于依赖两种时间性,古希腊人称之为“时间”和“凯洛斯”,我们可以称之为“日常时间”和“事件时间”。在日常的时间里,我们倾向于假设一切都和昨天一样,发生在我们已经习惯的变化的可预测的周期内。我们所设想的生活的正常展开是我们的常态感的基础,是决定我们的决定的框架,也是我们判断新信息的隐性背景。在事件的时间,另一方面,日常的节奏暂停。一种狂欢化的情绪支配着我们的社会结构,表现为他们意志的集体幻觉,我们看到自己突然出现在一个几乎无限的POS的空隙中。


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