Today. Today… At the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today there is not a man nor woman in here that shall stand alone. Not today. Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them. Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” – Idris Alba as Stacker Pentecost in Pacific Rim
“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.” – U.N. report on climate change.
The trick of the pastoral is that it was always post – there was never a way back to Arcadia. The Pastoral is defined by its post-lapserian situation. Poetry itself, as Joyelle McSweeney writes in Future No Future on the Poetry Foundation, is already and always external to itself.
“The future of poetry is no future, that what’s interesting and unkillable about poetry is its blackbox present tense that keeps shedding spectacular and occult effects like a basement blacklight and like a distant star, collapsing after its set.”
McSweeney’s Necropastoral highlights this unearthly (un)deadness of the pastoral – the tradition started out dead, zombified. Whether Eden or Arcadia or the long lost earth of science fiction whether it’s the pre-garbage Earth of Wall-E, or the forgotten earth of Foundation or before the fall earth of The Road, or the mythic Golden Age of Hesiod or Ovid. The situation of the world is lost-ness – there is no pastoral that isn’t cataclysm – the ontology of the mode of literature of torn, a rift lies between the represented and the possible.
This rending of worlds gives way to anxiety – like something could come through the rift. The pastoral becomes something monstrous – this starts with an explicitly pastoral work in Wordsworth’s Preludes and turns into horror when the young boat thief is confronted by and pursued by a mountain. Of course the mountain doesn’t pursue him, but the scale is horrifying; the sheer existence of the mountain as object pursues him.
Out of the pastoral rift comes other horrors, related to, but not identical to, Wordsworth’s confrontation. Lovecraft reacts to the pastoral with horror. Here the concept world is broken. Lovecraft managed to imagine the horror of the unknown or unknowable, and also managed to be skeptical of technology in a time at the turn of the century when technology seemed limitless. At the time when people around the world started burning oil – the long vision of Lovecraft found the anxiety of age. Basically Lovecraft was afraid of everything – from globalization, to science, to non-white people.
But of course what I’m interested in is thinking about Lovecraft from an ecological perspective. It’s also important from an ecological perspective. To return to Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, the Lovecraftian horror, the Cthulhu and the Elder Gods are early interpretations of the hyperobject. The Lovecraftian crises, just like global warming, are impossible to comprehend; they’re on a scale far different from the one that people can process. And Like Cthulhu, you can’t stuff all the carbon emissions back under the earth once you’ve let them out.
In Pacific Rim, the Guillermo del Toro film from 2013, monsters called the Kaiju – Japanese for “strange creature” – emerge from a dimensional rift to terrorize the world. The first monster, in true nuclear paranoia tradition, emerges from the Pacific and dutifully destroys San Francisco – perhaps another interesting allegorical choice, as the ascendant seat of tech power. The first monster is named Trespasser. I’ll use that term to indicate the otherworldly interloper in this kind of story.
While Pacific Rim is pretty much a run of the mill action monster movie complete with gundam-like people shaped machines and the triumph of the forces of humanity/technology over the horrific other – it’s interesting because it bears so much anxiety of about ecological crises. The original sin, or trespass, that brought about the invasion of the Kaiju is – guess what? — global warming caused by carbon emissions.
The monsters are the first offensive of a group of colonizers from a place called the Anteverse who had been waiting for the environmental conditions to be right to invade. Hilariously, the monsters tried to invade a couple hundred million years ago – as the dinosaurs! – but the planet wasn’t in their Goldilocks Zone yet. But now, after a couple hundred years of burning liquefied dinosaur bones (!!!) it’s exactly what the colonizers were looking for. It’s almost like they planned it that way.
Reza Negrestani writes about oil in Cyclonopedia:
“An autonomous chemical weapon belonging to earth as both a sentient entity and an event. Petroleum poisons Capital with absolute madness, a planetary plague bleeding into economies mobilized by the technological singularities of advanced civilizations. In the wake of oil as an autonomous terrestrial conspirator, capitalism is not a human symptom but rather a planetary inevitability. In other words, Capitalism was here even before human existence, waiting for a host.”
The anxiety over global warming unleashing a world-destroying catastrophe is the paratext of the film. The giant sea monsters and the people shaped Jaegher robots that fight them are an all-too easy allegory in the tech-obsessed world where we will solve all of our problems with a new app. But there’s even a subtext about the dangers of technology – chief monster fighter Stacker Pentecost has some kind of cancer because of poor radiation shielding in his early beta generation Jaegher. He’s dying in this fight with the apocalypse whether it’s cancelled or not.
Ultimately in the film, regardless the cost, technology will triumph over whatever and ultimately can stuff Cthulhu/global warming back under the earth – by going into the other world at the end of the dimensional tunnel and blowing it up. Of course, it’s technology that ultimately brought it out of the earth in the first place and while one rift might be destroyed there’s always another possible, waiting to open up and vomit out some greater horror.
Another story of the unknown/unknowable alien emerging from the rift is Half-Life. Half-Life is about the collision of worlds – like Pacific Rim and Lovecraft, strange creatures emerge from another world. One of the problems of Pacific Rim – the reason that the Kaiju are a problem is their sheer scale. Like in Lovecraft, and Wordsworth, scale itself can be horrific. In Half-Life there are problems of scale, but that’s far from the only weirdness of the trespassers. At one point you fight a tentacle monster that seemingly comes from nowhere and has no bottom. The monster, looks like a hyperobject. But there are also face crabs that turn people into zombies, bee guns, and a whole host of extreme strange – the strange stranger, to use another concept coined by Timothy Morton.
Another problem in Half-Life is that the trespasser isn’t the only other. Many of the people-shaped-objects in Half-Life are actually your enemies. The zombified scientist who were once your friend will try to eat you and the military who you thought would protect you is actually doing the opposite. They’re trying to kill you, as Gordon Freeman, simply because of your proximity to and witness of the otherworldly trespassers. Contact has somehow made you other.
Thinking about the bigness or smallness of things, and maybe even more so, the sheer absence and holey-ness of things, is enough to give most people he howling fantods. Consider the rift that everyone has – the implication of quantum theory and string theory that the particles that we observe are tangled up with each other in other dimensions – and it’s easy to see the anxiety that these works are conveying.
Half-Life, which came out in 1999, has basically the same plot as Pacific Rim, from 2013. Both are about stopping the invasion of strange creatures that are entering our world through tear in reality. In both cases you’ve got to enter the alien world and destroy it to save the world.
Basically they have the same plot. So what is compelling about this battling extreme otherness? The worlds of Half-Life and Pacific Rim and even Call of the Cthulhu give the “people” a kind of carte blanche and moral superiority to sdpreserve their way of life. But also, the narratives of the unworldly other reveal a deep anxiety about what has been unleashed by people. The first Kaiju in Pacific Rim is called Trespasser. The first creature to compromise the concept of the world.
But that world, is pastoral. It’s stillborn, or constantly dragged from the grave, and put on parade, as an object only as evidence for its own death. The world is concept that is intrinsically porous; it is perforated, objects move easily through it. It’s never as solid as it looks. It’s constantly destroyed, revised, reimagined, and broken.
What I think these narratives of trespass are really about is a fear of the void. The concept world is so holey (holy) that it practically doesn’t exist, just like your body. It’s horrific that things can simply enter the world – like there’s nothing standing in the way at all. Because of course, there isn’t. The concept world envelops the Kaiju and the Cthulhu and global warming just as easily as it does objects like person, gundam, half-life, and barbecue.
In Pacific Rim and in Half-Life it’s easy to overlook the endgame of the trespasser story. At the end of both stories the roles are reversed. The protagonist becomes the antagonist in the story of the other. The trespassed becomes the trespasser, and brings the gift of apocalypse to another world, in order to cancel, for now, the apocalypse in their own. The apocalypse isn’t cancelled so much as it is re-gifted.
In this world, as far as I can tell, there’s no other world to dump our apocalypse on.