Roaring Infinitudes: Self and Storm in the Anthropocene


Hurricane Irma is barreling into Florida like a titan, or perhaps a dragon--whatever it is, it's bigger than this peninsula. In other words, Irma reaches a size too difficult to truly fathom, and while the view from space certainly helps us get a good view, it doesn't belittle its scope and power.

Boy would I prefer to be up in the relative quiet of space, though. Beam me up, ISS.

Years ago, when Hurricane Sandy was about to crash into the New York coast, I was writing about how sea serpents and dragons traditionally hold a mythological connotation of chaos and disorders. Tiamat is the serpent of Sumerian myth that needed to be slain in order for the world to be founded. Chaos crushed under the foot of civilization. All civilizations eventually come to the point where they meet the wrathful ghost of the dragon they'd slain. They realize, too late, that it was never dead. Only biding its time.

I'm of the mind that if we are to survive and somehow flourish in the coming centuries it won't be through any kind of mythical battle with dragons. We can't do that anymore. Perhaps we never needed to.

Myth helps us process complexity. It constellates variables into living icons of meaning and transmutes complexity into a dramaturgical act, a spontaneous, dare we see autopoetic eruption from the psyche. Myth is a doorway to the unconscious, where we dream up civilizations and perhaps where reality and the imagination occlude themselves in inextricable unities. This is our nature. 

So as much as the sea monster is an image of chaos, disorder, and a world that needs to be founded it is also an image of the world as it is; it is an image of us. 

As I'm prepping for the inevitable here in Florida at my in-laws home I keep tab open to a live feed on Irma. Satellite images, fluxing predictions that oscillate the storm's trajectory east, now west, now further west. Irma breathes and pulsates, diminishing to a Category 3 before swelling to a 4. Irma lives. My friend on the east coast of Florida tells me that the patter of rain sounds different from regular storms. Present, somehow. I can feel something, too. It's like a thunderstorm but far more overreaching. It feels more like an invasion. But of what? 

Video feeds play the sounds of Irma: inhuman voices howl through whipping palm trees and crushed signposts. Again the mythological imaginings creep up. "She is alive", I say. And my imagination shifts from the eerie sounds out of hell to the thought that, yes, she is alive. She is life. 

Irma is, of course, a different kind of beast. Not just a hurricane but the sum of all variables that make up human activity: our CO2 emissions, the breathing, pumping, clanking sound of a billion machines rattling about and gorging up the oil of a billion more organisms. Irma is the tip of a much vaster, larger, living thing that we do not see: the Earth-human-organism creature. The hyperobject that makes up the Anthropocene.

"There be dragons" indeed, but the dragon is somehow us, too. The Ouroboros that goes to bite its tail is the storm that threatens to swallow us up.

The Anthropocene, as Bruno Latour has so aptly reminded us, puts us in a precarious strangeness with the world, with "Gaia". The last bastion of separation between chaos and order has already receded into the nostalgic horizon of the past: nature and human nature have collided and the beast in the storm is the mirror, like some eerie Lynchian doppleganger grinning wildly at us from a spiraling portal to the Black Lodge. When Teilhard de Chardin dreamt of the noosphere, or when Julian Huxley proposed that we are the universe become aware of itself, did they imagine the roaring infinitudes of the Anthropocene? The human-being-storm-being-human? The strange loop we're in now forces us to pay mind to what the philosopher Jean Gebser told us about the kind of phenomenology of consciousness we were being initiated into: where integrality meant the forces of existence getting realized in us, through us, one way or another. The integral, then, is not merely coming to consciousness of myth, nor of recognizing the science of climate change, but truly becoming cognizant that we are already part of a planetary super-organism (and not merely that, but within that, within all of being is unknowable, inexhaustible mysteries). Wholeness, without limit, pervading both beauty and terror. Like a mentat in Frank Herbert's Dune, we must become prescient to multiplicities, past and future, relations that resound across invisible lines across all activities.

In the anime film Akira, Akiba becomes—or rather, realizes—that he is a singularity. The forces he unleashes upon the world are eventually uncontrollable, and therefore they become unleashed back upon himself. In the evolutionary leap he takes, he becomes everything, and only by completing that transformation of consciousness can he hope to stabilize himself (and avoid destroying the world). One would think that, upon discovering that our species is a hyperobject, the "Anthropocene", we might recognize the terrible and frightening being we've become and steer ourselves away from self-imploding catastrophe. We might. One can hope.

It is night, and silent where I am. I feel the coming storm as a presence, a terrible friend. I share the silence with the storm as I feel that it also moves through me. Might a storm also be Rilke's intensified skies? Might storms pass through our inner skies, like great and whirling birds? If a leap, a mutation in consciousness occurs in us, then it also occurs to us. Like finding inside ourselves an infinite diamond. What strange powers are unleashed—and when they are, what tremendous things might we then become? Tomorrow has initiated us into its mysteries, of being-human-being-world. Tomorrow comes, like the storm, and without our having much to say in the matter. This is like all transformation (as birth, as death). So we will take the storm into ourselves and breath the Earth.