There is a third gift: Bewilderment
Just do it. Never ever give up. Keep pushing. Always try again. It just takes a little more effort. Whatever you do, don’t lose hope.
These are the messages our almost-globalized world streams through pixels, through glossy surfaces, through architecture, through the stories we tell, through speeches of photogenic leaders, through the myths we’ve filtered into visibility. You may call it a planetary ethic of resilience; I call it the ballad of the lone ranger – the human figure – wading through the unforgiving desert of dead things. An ode to the Anthropos making his way home – like Odysseus of old.
And yet, despite the obviousness of these tropes, there are times of irrepressible demise when resilience blinds us not only to the fragility of our situation and the scope of our crisis, but to the more-than-rational invitations and possibilities that are afoot in dramatic shifts. We want to trust in our grit; we want to believe our survival to be eternally plausible. But then this insistence that things will work out fine, that grief and loss get in the way of the urgent task of getting ahead, feeds our sense of stability and deadens the senses.
Somewhere among the fossils of the Bronze Age, in the ashen and ghastly figures of Pompeii, in the ruins of the Roman Civilization, in the collapse of the old Oyo Empire, is hope. Cold, dead alien hope. Unchanging and glistening. Cauterized in the fires of its endless worship.
Hope will often stand in the way of transformation. Justice will often be embodied by the very structures we seek escape from. What do we do when hope incarcerates us? Abandon it? Not quite. We reintroduce it to its estranged kin: hopelessness. We retreat into the dark and learn the luminosity of descent. Somewhere in the studious embrace of our demise, of our littleness, of our insignificance, we call upon the manifold others whose names our lips dare not utter. It is the others that teach us to purge our eyes, to count other matters, to sense other colours, to taste other notions, to come alive to the exquisite promiscuity of the many life-death ecologies we are entangled with, and to be cast beside oneself so ecstatically that one loses shape.
In these times of unsettling impasses, I refuse the binary options. Our ‘choice’ is not between survival and damnation. There is a third gift: bewilderment. The madness of compost and the promise of monsters.