Response to the luxury of learning how to die

Here is Jonathan Skinner’s response to my response to Roy Scranton’s piece in the New York Times: Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene:

“I myself read Scranton’s piece less as a call to mourn and rebuild than as an urgent wake up call, to the emergency of every day (beyond ‘kill the buddha’), that to be responsible to the demands of life on edge, including the needs of those who barely live, by everyday standards, one has to see one’s “own” mortality through, all the way. That the “developed” world can’t continue with the pretense of development–petroculture (to follow the rather undetermined leap Scranton makes from individual to society) must see through its own demise, before it can even begin to function, in any way that is remotely useful.

Well, that’s how I understood the argument Scranton was making, whether or not I agree. (Thinking about it . . . ) For credibility’s sake, he had to make that comment about being statistically safe, but it was a mistake for the terms of the piece. Even if the kind of reflection Scranton counsels *is* a relative luxury, then perhaps it’s a reflection on the mental moves necessary to response from positions of (relative) power. In any case, I didn’t read it as quietist . . . I’m trying to imagine reading an essay like this (in the NY Times) even ten years ago.

Then again, reading Will Alexander today, the essay “Ventriloquial Labor,” in Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat (Essay Press, ed. Taylor Brady):

‘We face an insidious planetary future, collectively depleted by random cold, and patternless heat. The future, and the immediate future is like watching humanity being squandered inside a graph of poisoned condor’s milk. It’s as if an inward pole were shifting, leaving the living collective dulled by a withered orientation.

‘We are now left with inhuman probes, attempting to distill the outer worlds, yet compromised by their sporadic mechanical dysfunction. The nature of cosmic space being of such bizarre and invincible distance can never be apprehended by mechanical inquisition, never giving us the evolved level of communication which the race has subconsciously yearned for. So we are left with cellular objects, with electronic mails, with chatting rooms condensed by computer.

‘In this sense, the earth is proto-desolate, not so far as one would think from the primal desolation that one finds, while viewing vistas like Phobos or Ceres. . . .

‘What I prefer to sense, is a honing by human alchemic, to a zone where ventriloqual hearing would transpire. And by ventriloqual I am thinking of a rhythmical glottic, defining a ‘resonant pathway,’ ‘a cosmic lifeline’ extending ‘from the solar plexus through the reflective membrane of the planetary field on to the sun, and ultimately to the galactic core.’ . . .

‘Each utterance from this state is praxis by interior accuracy. . . .

‘I am concerned with language which breathes through explorational magnetics, alchemically superseding the poisonous metrical weight of our era.”

Another luxury? In the essay which (brilliantly) follows this, “The Zone Above Hunger”:

‘But as an artist, a poet, one does not have to curtail one’s power in order to evoke the suffering which comes from material deficiency. Inner radiance cannot be curtailed by the stones one has to sup with one’s bread.’

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