April 11, 2018

“Precisely at the moment of its own loss the human animal becomes aware of what makes it human—meaning, empathy, art, morality— but can only recognize those capacities that distinguish humanity at the moment that they are threatened with extinction.” 1

“The underlying conceptual matrix of the notion of the abject is that of a dangerous ground. The abject points towards a domain that is the source of our life-intensity; we draw our energy out of it, but we have to keep it at the right distance. If we exclude it, we lose our vitality, but if we get too close to it, we are swallowed by the self-destructive vortex of madness[…]” 2

“[…] in the dominant visual apparatus of the Anthropocene, the viewer enjoys a comfortable position outside the systems depicted. The already iconic images of the Anthropocene ask nothing of from the human spectator; they make no claim; they neither involve nor implore. The images make risk, harm, and suffering undetectable.”3

How would one evoke affect for the non-perceivable? Affect for what is only visible in abstract data? As scholars and activists increasingly desperately tries to make humanity change, our passiveness seems staggering. Even with something so massive and undoubtedly human made as the pacific trash vortex, the solutions are mainly driven by passionate individuals or activist organizations – it stands in stark contrast to the collective endeavour that humanity as a species must take on to avoid extinction. Joe Romm suggest a shift in language from “hope” to “fear”, learning to “hug the monster” and channelling it into action. 4 Claire Colebrook builds on this argument by arguing around the idea of the formation of a stable border between the self and the world, the self-destructive tendencies of the human animal and our general attraction to annihilation.1 Then we have Stacy Alaimo’s case in “Your Shell on acid” that the visuals of the Anthropocene excludes the spectator, neither “involve nor implore” us.3

With this I would like to add what Julia Kristeva’s calls “Abjection”. 5 She suggests an existential horror which appears in the moment of separation of one’s self, “a much more basic fear of the breakdown of what separates us from external reality”. 2 It fits into Colebrook’s narrative of the balance act between stimulus/pleasure and order/meaning/self while offering a possible way forward of tipping this balance. While facing the abject usually results in ignoration or constraining it out of sight, there is a third, much more violent possibility – destruction. 6 Then, perhaps a language of environmental abjection, of environmental horror, of visualizing the “non-earthly” pollution of Earth today, could potentially develop into environmental action.

Then comes the video of the turtle. It shows a turtle with a straw stuck in one of its’ nostril and a group of people trying to help it. It’s a heart wrenching and gruesome video, with the animal being in obvious pain, but in the end the humans successfully remove the straw. What happen when I reverse the video? Take frames and put them in reverse order, as to suggest the humans inserting the straw instead, as we do. A horror scene is created. Actions which we would never associate with. Actions that we would not wish to ever recreate.

Anton Lindström

1. Colebrook, ‘Death of the PostHuman’, Essays on Extinction, Vol. 1 (2014), pp. 12
2. Krecic & Žižek, ‘Ugly, Creepy, Disgusting, and Other Modes of Abjection’, Critical Inquiry 43, no. 1 (Autumn 2016): pp. 70-71
3. Alaimo, “Your Shell on Acid: Material immersion, Anthropocene Dissolves”, 2016
4. Romm, ‘‘Hug The Monster’: Why So Many Climate Scientists Have Stopped Downplaying the Climate Threat’, https://thinkprogress.org/hug-the-monster-why-so-many-climate-scientists-have-stopped-downplaying-the-climate-threat-586155657f2/, (accessed March 2018)
5. Alaimo breifly implies she wants to avoid abjection in the visuals, but I still feel her initial analysis of the state of visuals ties in with my argument.
6. Fletcher & Benjamin, “Abjection, melancholia and love: The work of Julia Kristeva” (2012) p. 92; Oliver, “Psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and politics in the work of Kristeva” (2009)


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