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Last of 2012: What to worry about in 2013

I can’t really give you a ‘Best Of’ for 2012 that’s really meaningful because I don’t get around much on the net. I’m not on Twitter or Facebook. I use my mobile phone, which is an ancient model by phone standards, maybe once a week to send a text, usually along the lines of ‘Does anyone know where the remote is?’ or ‘Where’s the ute?’ Finding lost things, that’s become my purpose in life.

The internet used to be pretty useful for finding lost stuff, but now I’ve got so much found stuff, I’m fucked if I know what to do with it all. For the first time in my life, there doesn’t seem to be any point in buying books because thanks to Booko I’ve got so many they are racked up all around my room like Imelda Marcos’ shoes. I’ve got like 300 unread books shelved around my bed.

I begin every new year by realising that I worry too much about myself. It’s not so much a crisis of identity as much as worrying what on earth an identity is.

I share the label Stephen Wright with a comedian, a serial killer, a writer, a shock-jock, a couple of singers and three football players. Of course it’s entirely possible that my own Stephen Wright’ could even be a pseudonym, like the writer B Traven, who at various times in his mysterious life was believed to be a Mexican woman, a Spanish man, a Norwegian-American man, a Yugoslavian man, a German man, a German anarchist man, a German communist man on the run from the Nazis, the President of Mexico, Ambrose Bierce, the resurrected Jack London, and the illegitimate son of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

I myself at various times in my life have been mistaken for a road-raged Holden driver, someone else’s unsavoury ex-boyfriend, and a man from Tasmania. In fact I’ve been mistaken for many things at different times, and mistaken myself for many things as well.

‘Stephen’ comes by way of the Greek  Στεφανος, ‘stephanos’ being the Olympic champion, the person crowned with a laurel wreath. However my parents told me I was named after the first martyr who was stoned to death. They owned a large illustrated book of Bible stories that contained an eloquent drawing of the recumbent Stephen gazing sorrowfully up to the heavens as swarthy grimacing thuggish types in robes prepared to hurl rocks. Apparently a Stephen was someone who could be crowned in more ways than one.

It’s been a strange and intriguing and completley wacko year and pretty soon any news site you can name will be full of lists of what happened in 2012 – just in case we have forgotten all the horrors that have been visited upon us.

Predictions are another matter. Maybe we should be making lists of Things in 2013 To Very Afraid Of. For example, any contest titled ‘Person To Be Most Frightened of in 2013’ is always going to be won by Binyamin Netanyahu. He is a scary guy, and weird with it and a huge worry. Thank god he doesn’t carry a gun. Oh, wait a minute.

There will be a lot to front up to in 2013, so we may as well get onto it now. They aren’t going to go away. 2013 is going to be full of so much seriously fucked-up, crazy, twisted, diseased, bizarro, incendiary stupidity that you’ll begin to think you’re in a cut scene from Far Cry 3. I mean once upon a time there was no Justin Bieber or Gangnam Style. They were unable to be imagined. And then suddenly there they were, as if they had always been there. A few years ago there was no Google. Imagine that.

And perhaps it is a characteristic of the twenty-first century that the further we get from the past, a past that appears to have been more coherent, more tangible, more self-contained, less wounded and haemorrhaging, the faster time seems to be accelerating.

To cut open the mask of supercapitalism’s demented exterior, is to find ourselves in a kind of hideous mirror-world, where we find our ordinary lives hideously reflected in ways we would prefer not to see. It’s as if we have stepped outside linear time into a kind of constant now, hyper-connected at superspeed where events overtake themselves. It’s hard to mark when that began to happen. You can take your pick of moments when linear time seemed to go haywire: September 11, the first Iraq War, when you first got on the internet, when you became aware that we might kill everything on the planet, whatever. Whenever that arbitrary point is, it will be the point where the surface of mundane time suddenly ruptured.

Whatever speed we thought time was going, it instantly and abruptly unravelled at such blinding speed that we now seem to be in the same moment repeating itself, stuttering over and over. We are like stunt bikers zooming around on the Wall of Death. Perhaps, until that moment of impact or realisation it looked to us as though the cover story of the twentieth century – progress, enlightenment, all that stuff – might just hold together and get glossier makeovers and be endlessly upgraded in a kind of bionic supermarket. But we were just speeding toward the Future, delusional and screaming at bats, toward a shining city that was more like some kind of machine for devouring souls and full of grinning skull-like faces, rotating knives and more damnation than even God could imagine. The fact that we still have some versions of linear time – the circuits of your wristwatch, the progression of days – does not mean that the processes of time remain unchanged. It is not that Tuesday no longer follows Monday, but the belief that linear time will take us somewhere seems to be a belief beggared.

I don’t want a future, I want a present,’ said the writer Robert Walser. ‘To me this appears of greater value. You have a future only when you have no present, and when you have a present, you forget to even think about the future.

Walser was found dead in the snow on Christmas Day 1956, fifty-six years ago, not far from the mental hospital where he was living. It’s not a bad way to die, leaving the asylum of your disordered but rational thoughts, and falling backwards into the unmarked Christmas snow, your hat bouncing away behind you.

Robert Walser’s ‘Now’ is very different from what we might call the Apocalyptic Now. The Apocalyptic Now has a flipside, the Utopian Future. The two are inseparable. The Apocalyptic Now floats on the very edge of a loneliness so vast and irredeemable that only the grandest of utopian projects can save it. We will kill most mammalian species, but luckily science will resurrect them. The planet will overheat, but giant space reflectors will cool it down. We will live on the Moon, mine the Antarctic and everyone will have a solar-powered flying car and their own robot butler and live to be two hundred.

In reality, while we fantasise about the future, a future where we will have all the things we think we deserve, the remnants of supercapitalism will ensure that we continue to be condemned to drudgeries, lives where we put one foot in front of the other in the hope that such dream-like activity will take us somewhere. It’s as if the mark of capitalism is its creation of a marathon of fruitless endeavour where we are always labouring for the future object or state that on arrival is always revealed as a betrayal of some kind. Did I really work so hard, slave for so long, for this? Well, yes. Welcome to the neoliberal anxiety.

Now I’m starting to think I should say something cheerful, a kind of rousing call to collective action. I’m with Badiou in believing that not everyone is a subject, just as the southern African concept of ubuntu specifies parameters of what really makes someone a person. It’s blatantly obvious that collective action is needed. It’s a question of who the subject is that engages in it.

To able to engage in some kind of radical thought, the only thing that can lead to radical action, we can’t really afford to inhabit minds that get overwhelmed whenever some new neoliberal atrocity is committed. If you subscribe to a set of beliefs that could be described as belonging on the Left, there’s a potential that you can predict the generalities of the current political landscape some time in advance. Being on the Left doesn’t give you special powers of clairvoyance, or make you saner; it’s just that it be more congruent with political reality.

One didn’t have to be Nostradamus to be able to predict that the US-led invasion of Iraq was going to be a stupendous catastrophe and a lot of wealthy US multinationals were going to be feeding at the public trough like pigs at a Roman banquet. Or that Cameron and Osbourne’s austerity measures were going to drive millions into poverty and cripple the UK economy while filling the pockets of a few plutocrats. Or that the EU would do the same to the economies of Spain and Greece. Or that the 2008 financial crisis would have no effect whatsoever on the financial practices of banks and vulture funds and the like.

The meltdown of the Republican Party and its propaganda arm Fox News during the recent US elections happened because they really thought that it was enough for them to believe something for it to be true. A lot of neoliberal thinking is like that. It’s a kind of strange magical thought, born of a sense of entitlement, an epiphenomenon of power and privilege, which can shield one from the many unpleasant consequences of one’s actions. That is, one can behave like a shitbag but get others to experience the fallout. That’s what privilege means.

Unfortunately for the Right, capitalism eats itself and so we are presented with the train-wreck that is Europe 2012. The challenge for the Left is to maintain some kind of optimism through all this. Optimism might not be the same as ‘hope’. Perhaps optimism is more politically grounded, a knowledge that it is possible to construct a sustainable economic order, a system of meaningful, shared ethical relationships and that the best thing we can do is try and keep having the conversations about that. Occupy was an attempt to have a conversation. We can keep our conversations civil, but we can be furious too. And fury, as I’ve said before is not the same as being angry. In fact because I think fury is so important I’m going to quote myself and define it again:

Fury is directed not at people but at practices, at structures both external and internal. Fury doesn’t rant the way that anger does. Fury doesn’t wax and wane like anger, and unlike anger, fury isn’t dependent on how you feel.

Fury never runs out of fuel. Injustice never ends and fury is fuelled by injustice. Fury doesn’t consume us the way that anger does. Fury burns without consuming. Fury doesn’t humiliate anybody even when someone is at fault and unrepentant. If one of the consequences of anger is that things are said that will later be regretted, the consequence of fury is the knowledge that patience has to be neverending. The slogan of fury is ‘No pasaran.’

Perhaps most significantly, fury has no truck with hatred. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova put it neatly in her closing statement at the Pussy Riot trial: ‘I have no private spite. But I have political spite.’ Fury has a long memory.

Hope is much more Hollywood than optimism. Hope has rose tints in its glasses and a tear in its eye. Optimism has eyes like lasers, more certainty mixed in it, and a ton more fury because we know more or less what we have done wrong. Setting up something more sustainable will require an immense labour, both inner and outer, and a hurricane of fury. But it’s possible. It’s definitely possible.

I don’t have any special knowledge here. I’m not claiming anything special for my own blogs which are about as profound as a bag of lollies. If you want sparkling literary criticism or penetrating political insight there are plenty of other places at Overland where you can find it. But I think that it is very easy to become discouraged in the face of the madness we can designate as twenty-first century capitalism, that in the future will hopefully be designated with a name more congruent with mental illness – Gina Rinehart Syndrome or something like that.

So buckle up for 2013. Ratchet up your fury.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. He was writer-in-residence for the 2015 Mesmerism new music festivals. In 2017, he won the Viva La Novella Prize. His winning novel, A Second Life, was published by Seizure, and also recently won the Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Fiction.

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