First appeared in Log 19
I once knew a madman who thought the end of the world had come. He was a painter – and engraver. I had a great fondness for him. I used to go and see him, in the asylum. I’d take him by the hand and drag him to the window. Look! There! All that rising corn! And there! Look! The sails of the herring fleet! All that loveliness! / (Pause.) / He’d snatch away his hand and go back into his corner. Appalled. All he had seen was ashes. / (Pause.) / He alone had been spared. / (Pause.) / Forgotten. / (Pause.) / It appears the case is . . . was not so . . . so unusual.
– Samuel Beckett, Endgame[i]
Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of climate change, one that is rarely uttered in the public discussions and political rhetoric surrounding the issue, is precisely its status as a nonevent. Its only character seems to be one of permanent becoming.
Until recently, catastrophes have faithfully appeared as sublime interruptions within the progress of normal human existence – an introduction of a sudden unrepresentable, unnameable, unknowable void penetrating through all contours of reality. For the survivors of catastrophe, mechanisms present themselves for the reemergence of new social configurations; assemblages of new constellations of reality are narrated through new temporalities and commemorated through physical iconographies of reconstituted symbolic universes. The arrival of climate change, however, promises to radically distort such mechanisms as well as the entire status of catastrophe as a phenomenological and ontological category of our collective history – a catastrophe that will never arrive as a singular event but rather will slowly unfold before us.
If climate change is indeed a nonevent, how do the terms of such an inversion reconstitute narrative as a social response? What are the modes of rhetoric that we use to interpret (or to foretell) the coming of ecological catastrophe, and how does this condition reconfigure the very symbolic framework of representation used to conceptualize this threat? Most importantly, how does such dire immanence affect the physical texture of reality? Recently, we have witnessed the introduction of a completely new monumental sensibility within the production of architecture – one that is inscribed within the very essence of ecological catastrophe and embraces and materializes popular fantasies responding to the crisis. One of the most archetypal within this spirit of architecture is the Eden Project in Cornwall, England.
[i] Samuel Beckett, Endgame: A Play in One Act (London: Faber and Faber, 1964), 32.