Chapter 5: Catastrophes
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c h a p t e r 5 Catastrophes Writing to Antonio Valdés, secretary of Charles V, on August 1, 1528, this is how Erasmus explained, against his detractors, the enterprise of the boundary mark (Termine): ‘‘One time the borders of fields were marked by a special sign; it was a stone protruding from the ground that hereditary laws prescribed to be irremovable. Hence Plato reports the saying: Don’t remove what you did not put up. . . . This boundary mark, as is written in the Roman Annals, was the only one that stood up to Jove.’’1 Terminus is the God that sanctions boundaries; the feast day of Terminals celebrates their indestructibility. But already in Erasmus the invocation of Terminus sounds by now like a lament, peace complaint (Querela Pacis), abandoned and vagrant. Precisely the story of this abandonment , of this eradication, is what Carl Schmitt analyzes in Der Nomos der Erde.2 No divine presence guarantees anymore the power of borders. Everything is freely removable. In perfect agreement with Schmitt, Ernst Jünger speaks in An der Zeitmauer of the ‘‘geological restlessness’’ of the present world: ‘‘On the ancient earth, man no longer feels safe. He no longer trusts the classical elements . . . behind the invention of machines always more fast there is hidden an impulse to escape,’’ as if the ancient mother, now inhospitable, wanted to belch us out into a fifth element, in pure ether, with no surface, in which no Term could ever be fixed.3 PAGE 146 146 ................. 17190$ $CH5 03-20-09 13:47:30 PS 147 Catastrophes Aristotle’s architect is a meteorologist with the purpose of tracing according to measurement the limits of the city, of expressing its nomos. We are meteorologists in the negative, and because of the impossibility of con- fiding in the Earth, we seek in that fifth element new, impossible dwellings. This geological restlessness seems to be at the bottom of contemporary disastrology. It conceives our environment as risk, hazard (tyche), in perennial ambush, against whose irruptions, however, programmed responses are possible. An authentic technology of disaster can originate only from the complete abandonment of every trust on the earth.4 But in this abandon , no doubt, the guilt is revealed for having eradicated what we never placed. Meteorologists, we wait for signs of vengeance, of a punishment that we try in every way not to consider necessary. Speculations on boundaries in the exploitation of resources, on the effects of pollution, just as on the differences by now apparently ungovernable between the great areas of the planet, fall within the framework of such meteorology. The environment has become a hazard because this is how we wanted it.5 On the other hand, precisely because this hazard is the earth to the extent that we transformed it, it can in some ways belong to us, that is, we can anticipate it—program it, correspond to it. A science always more trained in anticipating and calculating disasters develops in complement with our always greater capacity to produce them. But contemporary disastrology, above all in its black millenarian versions, Club of Rome style, all instrumentally devoted to preventing the latecomers ’ hope to share in what the North has already greatly enjoyed, is limited to emphasizing the destructive side of catastrophe. Indeed, it does recognize the problem of the discontinuous, but from a strictly medical point of view (medeor-mediare-medicus).6 The discontinuous is, from a medical point of view, pathological irruption to restoring order, precisely as the judge reestablishes the vigor of norm. The great medical symbolism, which for centuries has fluttered around these terms, seems to be irreversibly broken in contemporary culture. For such culture (an event, on the other hand, absolutely exceptional in the history of human societies) the problem of the discontinuous becomes normal. In the most disparate contexts , that critique meanders to any idea of finalized, structural continuity that Foucault has employed to deconstruct the very notion of history.7 An economist such as Leontief, in confronting the scenario of the next ten years, maintains that methods of long-term forecasting, still founded on PAGE 147 ................. 17190$ $CH5 03-20-09 13:47:30 PS 148 Catastrophes the analysis of continuous phenomena, are powerless.8 They trace relations between income, production, and occupation as if the break, the ‘‘transfixion’’ of one’s own spatial-temporal coordinates, were a disastrous exception to be removed or healed at all costs. Not only does such a logic of...