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"Hell Is Coming"

By Richard Seymour

June 27, 2019

Excerpts. Full essay at

Until recently, climate mourning was the niche concern of academics, psychologists, psychoanlysts, and a few deep ecologists. Where it appeared in the environmental movement, it was often inflected with Kingsnorthian white melancholia and climate nationalism. Now, after decades of compulsory optimism and spiritual uplift from greenwashed capitalism, years of phoney solutions through which the assault on the web of life was perpetuated, something is shifting. Extinction Rebellion is diagnostically interesting in this respect. Though it is politically ambiguous, it does clearly represent a step out of the shadows of the Dark Mountain. And it has made a formal praxis of mourning, both in its training of activists, and in the public rituals which it has turned into street theatre.

There is a tendency to castigate such mourning as an indulgence, or as tactically inept. Jonathan Atkinson scoffs that “it's a privilege for well-off, relatively unaffected British citizens to mourn at a time when climate impacts are becoming more acute for the Global South as well as the UK working class.” This is just silly, woke swagger. It is hardly as though Extinction Rebellion are the first to politicise mourning. Think of the Silent Parade on Fifth Avenue, the long history of black mourning. The candlelit vigils of the gay liberation movement, Douglas Crimp insisting that militancy requires mourning. The militant funerals of trade unionists, left-wing leaders, Palestinian martyrs. Antiwar die-ins. The silent march for Grenfell.

Mourning is a matter of political strategy, because the question of mourning is always: what to do with the remains? Not just the physical remains, but the ideal or spiritual remains that a loss leaves one with. The struggle is to turn them into new objects, coordinates in a new libidinal wayfinding. Even when all is lost, there will be remains. If there are no remains, there was no loss. And if there are remains, there is something to fight for. Reaction has a multitude of ways to colonise mourning, if the terrain is left open to it. Reaction offers fatalism, the elegaic last stand, the lamentation for lost 'ways of life', the rage and angst-fuelled death-drive to destruction. Theirs is the acedia-inspired sadness of which Benjamin wrote in These on the Philosophy of History, a sadness that has always identified with the victors.

Even sillier by far is the spin doctor's case for accentuating the positive. The issue, from this purview, is always one of narrative. Whatever the problem, the solution is “stories” that do x and y. In this case, we need stories that “inspire”. Stories that reference Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy in the same sentence as though they represented roughly the same kind of big-dreaming, hopeful idealism. Stories that bypass such ugly words as “crisis” and “hell”, and veto the labour of the negative. I beg to differ, inasmuch as I beg to hurl this abomination of marketable unthinking far into outer space, where it will be no less in touch with earthly realities. Among those earthly realities are that the public expression of already widespread feelings of panic, gloom and grief about climate change happen to confluent with significant steps forward in actually formulating solutions. The appearance of climate mourning manifests the same stew of political emotion that is driving the struggle for the Green New Deal, among other things.

Hell is coming. And what do we want to do with the remains?

seymour-hell.txt · Last modified: 2019/06/27 13:05 by admin