Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Catastrophism, a PM Press Book Launch


On Tuesday November 13th Moe’s will host a book launch for Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of  Collapse and Rebirth. Contributors Sasha Lilly, James Davis and Eddie Yuen will be at the store to discuss this important book. For more information got to the events page.

The following excerpt is by David McNally.

Catastrophist anxieties have remarkable reach across the cultural space of late capitalism. More than merely the nightmare scenarios of apocalyptic preachers and prognosticators, predictions of impending doom are also found in the writings of thoughtful social commentators and critics. But nowhere do catastrophe and apocalypse loom larger than in film and fiction, particularly in the horror genre, where zombies and vampires fill theaters and fly off bookstore shelves. Zombies are a particular rage these days, having made so indelible a mark on mass culture during the global economic crisis of 2008–2009 that Time magazine declared them “the official monster of the recession.”

The cultural omnipresence of zombies and other monsters offers a clue as to the mysteries of everyday life in capitalist society. For nearly two hundred years, specific imageries of horror—dissection, body-snatching, dismemberment, and bloodsucking—have haunted the popular imagination, hinting at a profound sense of corporeal vulnerability intrinsic to modern life. And today, in the context of a global economic slump, persistent wars, and worsening environmental crises, many of these imageries have taken on an apocalyptic hue.

But it is the mundane rather than the apocalyptic figures of monstrosity that most concern me here. In many ways, the world’s most obvious horrors—genocides, mass displacements, famines, wars, and ecological calamities—are easily identified, even if the dominant ideology works overtime to distort and mystify them, refusing to disclose their connection to capitalist structures of power. But beyond these overwhelming public atrocities, our culture also seethes with anxiety about the largely prosaic and unacknowledged catastrophes of everyday life. And this is where the proliferation of zombies and vampires across the cultural landscape can become significant: as registers in which these banal horrors are recorded, albeit in partial and distorted form. As much as these monsters are frequently absorbed by the
ritualized formulas of the culture industry, they contain an unabsorbed “surplus”of meaning that speaks to deeper truths. For lurking within these commercialized images is the eerie sense that monstrosity lies very close to home indeed, in the most ordinary practices of everyday life—in other words, that there are strange and chilling things happening right around us, to us. The very everydayness of grotesque images is a warning that ominous forces are not just “out there,” in regions of the strange and the horrifying, but in here, in the very spaces through which we move, invading our bodies and minds.

David McNally is Professor of Political Science at York University, Toronto. He is the author of six previous books, including Against the Market; Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism; and Global Slump: The Economics and Politics of Crisis and Resistance.

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