From M. John Harrison’s ‘Crisis’ in the TLS:
Music came from somewhere at the back of the house, dance hits from the mid-90s. It seemed distant, then someone opened a door onto the terrace. A hot evening, a wedding party. The river stank. Bright flashes in the sky, heavy, muted thuds off in the north around Camden Town. You leaned on the balustrade and stared down into the space between the house and the river, a dark strip of trampled turf – littered with discarded paper plates, beer cans and discarded condoms – where the bride, oblivious to everything but her own happiness, was dancing alone, skipping and spinning, dipping and bending, trailing her arms. It was, depending where you stood, a simple expression of joy or a complex expression of nostalgia for a time when all such moments were fuelled by money, aspiration, and a true, fully functional narcissism, a performative sense of self only hinted at by the Twentieth Century – days when it was still possible to see yourself as a great silent beautiful blossom opening up to the economic light.
Harrison accomplishes something here that recent dystopian fictions have gestured towards but not – to my eye – fully accomplished. It’s one thing to imagine the end of this bubble that we’ve been unsteadily inhabiting for so long, to depict the crash or the crashes and the aftermath. We can imagine the aftermath – what it would be like to inhabit the grimmer quarters of the world that have not been ours. We can imagine what it would be like for ‘all of this to come to an end.’
What has been more difficult, however, is to get a bead on what exactly the ‘this’ is that may be about to end, that is in the process of ending. We have danced, we have blossomed to the economic light. But we have not been able to name, to describe, the nature of that light – the unnaturalness of that radiance – or the music that the bride is hearing (something like ‘dance hits from the mid-90s’ but also something else too…)
As Agamben has it in The Coming Community:
But the absurdity of individual existence, inherited from the subbase of nihilism, has become in the meantime so senseless that it has lost all pathos and been transformed, brought out into the open, into an everyday exhibition: Nothing resembles the life of this new humanity more than advertising footage from which every trace of the advertised product has been wiped out.
The ads continue to run without any reference to the product for sale, the service to be tendered, and we continue to act them out anticipating the tag-line, the title and tariff, the terms and conditions…