Dare to Hope
Rowan Tree Editing's 2021 agendas...
It is so tempting to give up after a year like 2020. That temptation is not likely to go away soon. Nobody should be judged for succumbing to it, we have never needed comradely support more. But equally, there is nothing kind about letting yourself, never mind others, renounce the burden of optimism. Evaluating that undertaking, the need to seek a better world, the utopian impulse, will be the loadstar for my blog going forward into 2021. We must dare to hope, with apocalyptic urgency.
Some time ago, I wrote about the need for a socialist wager on optimism. Amongst my various scribblings, this essay felt important to me. So much so I put time into making a video essay its contents. Optimism is not popular. Pessimism, dressed up as pragmatism or realism, is easier to present as serious, sober, morally astute, etc. The path of demoralizing ourselves into relinquishing hope seems the more adult, the more considered.
On the surface, my favourite genres of story seem contradictory. On the one hand utopia (from Thomas More to Ursula K. Le Guin), on the other horror (such as the work of George Daniel Lea), southern gothic (Cormac McCarthy, Carson McCullers), and grim dark (Warhammer 40k, Crusader: No Remorse, Robocop, Judge Dredd). But what I admire most about the latter three is that at their best, these bodies of tales are either elaborate, colourful parodies of exaggerated despair (grim dark) or attempts, by excising everything false, to locate the essential (gothic, horror).
If there is a word these genres conjure in my mind it is ‘earnest’. Yes, including grim dark, because to the degree to which it deploys a humorous satire of the grim, it must be incredibly forthright. In a period where something called ‘post-irony’ is looked upon to cure our interminable love of insincerity, I want to take a stand for art that is unabashedly sincere, that embraces being so much what it is that it proves anathema to the vacuum of in-jokes and winking, cruel, knowingness that has defined online culture.
The year ahead is going to involve interrogating stories and their relation to optimism a lot. I will be reviewing a book on the origins of grim dark, I will be focusing more on indie horror, and I plan to devote many words to an in-depth look at Ernest Bloch’s three volumed work The Principle of Hope. Other subjects I plan to address, from the very personal to the purely abstract, will be inflected by this monomania.
Far from serious, miserabilism is the death of seriousness. It is not a more accurate appraisal of possibilities, but a foreclosure of them prior to any attempt at appraisal. Declining profitability, the ecological metabolic rift, and the politics of nostalgia (from the far right at the worst end, to 1950s style social democracy at the woefully unimaginative best). This is our three-headed monster.
Before we can overcome such a monstrous moment, we must do something brave; we must get to the point of no return, which is the most terrifying point, the reason we find recourse in the poison of nostalgia in one form or another. It is also the foundation of a concerted optimism. Here I agree (and without qualification) with Franz Kafka’s greatest aphorism:
From a certain point on, there is no more turning back. That is the point that must be reached.
There is no continuation of things as they are. Capitalism has no future, it has only two bleak possibilities remaining. One, that it ends the species permanently, ushering in the unthinkable nightmare of a world without us. This is the possibility Eugene Thacker demands we consider in his book In the Dust of this Planet. It is to eliminate every glorious possibility conceivable, and to make of at least this portion of the universe a mere set of dull mechanisms, without the miracle of shared agency and intention.
Two, we could set ourselves back before the seeming Mephistophelean possibilities of modern productive capacities. Class society, without the abundances we have found our way to produce, will become destiny, and the brutal play of its contradictions will be the entirety of the human future. We will never see an end to social prejudice, because the need to justify exploitation in one form or another will be locked into place. Or, at the very least, we could only fall into the basest contradiction with nature, and in casting off class contradictions by regressing ever further, be at the mercy of horrifying scarcities and stunted lives.
Neither of these horrors are inevitable, except by our imagining them so. We must confront such futures knowing that they remain possible, but at the same time know with the conviction of hope that neither a collapse back into premodernity nor a barren planet should be sought out, should be tritely accepted.
The other course, the grandest utopia, the realisation of a new human history with higher contradictions (those of human flourishing, philosophy and aesthetics) is achievable, on the basis of the free association of free produces. Getting there requires not one leap, not a single jubilant moment, but a process, a series of transitions, a great, self-transformative struggle. Such a thing needs sustenance. And a part of that is found in telling the right stories.
The right stories are going to be a part of that journey, and the name of those stories has always been utopia. My blog is a utopian one as much as it is a Marxist, Humanist, writerly blog. I hope to have a conversation with you as we go into this next, challenging year, I hope that we (you and I, reader) challenge one another to think, and to think so as to hope.
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