Flavorwire Exclusive: Civilization Is Doomed! McKenzie Wark Takes on the Anthropocene

wark_featureIn the below excerpt, drawn from the conclusion of his energizing new book Molecular Red, McKenzie Wark confesses that “we all know this civilization can’t last.” Nevertheless! Wark asserts that our imaginations are up to the standard of describing a new and better world, and so he sets out to consider what metaphors we might use to define a future that will “undo the workings of the Anthropocene.” The industriousness and intellectual range you see here defines Molecular Red, a brilliant and persistently entertaining book that considers everything from cyborgs to Russian intellectuals and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

From the conclusion to Molecular Red:

There is still some low theory work to do, to transmit the metaphor of the Anthropocene between domains, but in that process, those labor processes will change it. Rather than “interrogate” Crutzen’s Anthropocene—and where did that metaphor come from?—perhaps it is better to see it as what it is: a brilliant hack. The Anthropocene introduces the labor point of view—in the broadest possible sense—into geology. Perhaps the challenge is then to find analogous but different ways to hack other specialized domains of knowledge, to orient them to the situation and the tasks at hand.

Let’s invent new metaphors! Personally, I like the #misanthropocene, but don’t expect it to catch on. Jason Moore prefers the Capitalocene, Jussi Parikka the Anthrobscene. Kate Raworth suggests Manthropocene, given the gender make-up of the Anthropocene Working Group considering it as a name for a geological era. Donna Haraway offers to name it the Chthulucene, a more chthonic version of Cthulhu, the octopoid monster of H. P. Lovecraft’s weird stories. “Chthulucene does not close in on itself; it does not round off; its contact zones are ubiquitous and continuously spin out loopy tendrils.”

Haraway notes the strikingly parallel evolution of new meta- phorical tools in both humanities and biologies, where competitive individualism is no longer a given. In Bogdanovite terms, perhaps it is because in both domains, producing knowledge got strangely complex, collaborative, and mediated by apparatuses. A new breed of basic metaphor is at least partly at work and in play, one which in the biologies could be described as a “multi-species becoming-with.”

Haraway wants to both “justify and trouble” the language of the Anthropocene. As Edwards does with climate science, she insists on the embeddedness in an infrastructure that makes the global appear as a work-object to those natural scientists for whom the Anthropocene makes sense as a metaphor. She points to the limits of its basic metaphors, which still think one-sidedly of competition between populations or genes, where success equals reproduction. More symbiotic—dare we say comradely?—kinds of life hardly figure in such metaphors. But perhaps, as Haraway says, “we are all lichens now”—cyborg lichens.

After Robinson, the task is not debating names or trading stories, but making comradely alliances. Is not Crutzen one of those curious scientist-intellectuals that Robinson’s fiction trains us to look out for? Crutzen and his colleagues in the earth sciences have flagged something that needs to shape the agenda for knowledge, culture, and organization. For those of us seeking to respond from the left, I think the authors presented in Molecular Red offer some of the best ways of processing that information. Bogdanov and Platonov would not really be surprised by the Anthropocene. They were vulgar enough to think aspects of it already.

So let’s pop the following tools into the dillybag for future use:

Something like an empirio-monism has its uses, because it is a way of doing theory that directs the tendency to spin out webs of metaphoric language to the task at hand. It steers the language arts toward agendas arising out of working processes, including those of sciences. It is agnostic about which metaphors best explain the real, but it sees all of them as substitutions which derive from the forms of labor and apparatus of the time.

Something like proletkult has its uses, as the project for the self-organization of the labor point of view. It filters research into past culture and knowledge through the organizational needs of the present. Those needs put pressure on the traditional category of labor, opening it toward feminist standpoints, not to mention our queer cyborg entanglements.

Something like a tektology has its uses, as a way of coordinating labor other than through exchange or hierarchy, or the new infra- structure of corporatized “networks.” It communicates between labor processes poetically and qualitatively. It is a training of the metaphoric wiliness of language toward particular applications which correspond to and with advances in labor technique.

Lastly, something like the utopia of Red Star has its uses, in motivating those working in separate fields to think beyond the fetishistic habits of the local and toward comradely goals. In the absence of a single counter-hegemonic ideology, perhaps something like a meta-utopia might be more useful, and more fun. Meta-utopia offers not so much an imaginary solution to real problems as a real problematizing of how to navigate the differences between the imaginal that corresponds to each particular labor points of view.

And so, to conclude with the slogan with which we began. It might be the slogan of a Cyborg International. One which already possesses in imagination the means and the will to undo the workings of the Anthropocene. One with nothing for it but to build the new living world within the ruins of the old one. We all know this civilization can’t last. Let’s make another.