Apocalypse, or, the Logic of Late Anthropocene Ruins

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Abstract

In his stunning, sobering book of photography Abandoned Futures: A Journey to the Posthuman World, Tong Lam asserts that, "in a way, we are already post-apocalyptic" (Lam 2013, section 011). To understand such a statement in the context of his photographs-including the photo essay titled "Unreal Estate and China's Collective Unconscious" that this piece accompanies-we must first detach the notion of apocalypse from its usual biblical connotation. If the Christian version confirms the centrality of humanity to God's plans, for better or for worse, then what we are dealing with here is something like the opposite; the revelation provided by these photos is at least in part that of the rather pathetic hubris of the human species in its fleeting age of planetary dominance, even in the case of China in the midst of head-spinning transformation. Insofar as it refers generically to the end of an age, apocalypse has several distinct connotations for this photo series. First, it suggests the collapse of the communist dream with the failure of the Cultural Revolution, followed by the general counterrevolutionary trend of postsocialist China in the decades after China merged with, and eventually even embodied, the global juggernaut of capitalist modernity. Second, apocalypse here connotes the collapse of that modernity as well. That is, we are faced with the traversal of the ideological fantasy of modernization itself, whether capitalist or communist; we see the impossibility of the total scientific and technological dominance of nature, of economic growth being potentially infinite even though resources are finite, of the notion that one species can systematically transform and destroy its own habitat without eventually confronting the disaster it has created. Thus, a third implication of apocalypse has to do not just with the end of the age of communism or of capitalism but with the finitude of the Anthropocene epoch itself. The original Greek apocálypsis means literally "uncovering" or "revelation," and one thing that Lam's photographs uncover with
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review
Volume10
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 2014

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