Tuesday, April 12
Somewhere just before dark, I sit on my new front steps with a low-grade import beer that I don’t actually want much and listen to the frogs across the street. I want to hear the frogs quite a bit more than I want the beer. They’ve been noisy every night since I moved in, a jarring reminder of the organic world that I have been ignoring while looking at screens for so long. Later, writing this at the kitchen counter with the front door cracked and the heat leaking out into the mid-April night time chill, I can still hear them.
A frog is a terrifying little monster of an animal, if you are something small enough to fit inside its mouth. Frog behavior has always struck me as profoundly mechanistic. There’s maybe a kind of intelligence lurking in frog motions, but if so it’s the intelligence of some ruthlessly honed algorithm.
I’ll miss them a lot, if they go away.
Reading: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, by Roy Scranton.
It’s a small book, by layout and page count, but I’m not quite finished with it after a week. I bought it at City Lights in San Francisco and brought it back with me on the airplane. Even in the absence of other inputs, air travel gets me to thinking in spirals about our civilization as ruined and ruining, and about my own certain death. This is a book subtitled Reflections on the End of a Civilization, and it takes maybe all of 10 paragraphs before one starts with “We’re fucked.”
I guess I would say that it’s not the best choice of airplane reading for a compulsively catastrophizing, fear-riddled depressive. Every time my girlfriend has seen me reading it since, she’s hated the idea of me reading it with various degrees of audible disgust. This is because she thinks it will cause me to trip down a days- or weeks-long spiral of ruminating on the general fuckedness of basically everything.
The book’s early sections are, in fact, pretty bleak. They’re some of the only nonfiction prose I’ve read that really chimes with my own sense of how ugly the next decades and centuries are likely to become, if in fact the scary-case version of climate change turns out to be basically accurate.1 Or more generally my sense of what a deeply intractable technical and political problem is represented by the ecological impact of human civilization.
That out of the way, I think there’s something quite a bit more interesting here than straight-line despair, however well-articulated, though I’m not sure what I’ll think by the time I finish the last quarter or so. Its prescriptions for a kind of philosophical or humanistic intervention in the course of the looming apocalypse initially struck me as kind of thin, and yet.
Worth the time so far, at any rate.
1 A while ago, I wrote a text file about whether I know anything about this question. I don't, of course.