Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
There are some games where a single player wins, games where a group of players wins, and then there are games where all of the players can share equally in defeat. Yet regardless of the way winners and losers are apportioned, there is something disconcerting about a game where the rules change significantly when one is within sight of victory. Suddenly the strategy that had previously assured success now promises defeat and the confused players are forced to reconsider all of the seemingly right decisions that have now brought them to an impending loss. It may be a trifle silly to talk of winners and losers in the Anthropocene, with its bleak herald climate change, but the epoch in which humans have become a geological force is one in which the strategies that propelled certain societies towards victory no longer seem like such wise tactics. With victory seeming less and less certain it is easy to assume defeat is inevitable.
“Let’s not despair” is the retort McKenzie Wark offers on the first page of Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. The book approaches the Anthropocene as both a challenge and an opportunity, not for seeing who can pen the grimmest apocalyptic dirge but for developing new forms of critical theory. Prevailing responses to the Anthropocene – ranging from faith in new technology, to confidence in the market, to hopes for accountability, to despairing of technology – all strike Wark as insufficient, what he deems necessary are theories (which will hopefully lead to solutions) that recognize the ways in which the aforementioned solutions are entangled with each other. For Wark the coming crumbling of the American system was foreshadowed by the collapse of the Soviet system – and thus Molecular Red looks back at Soviet history to consider what other routes could have been taken there, before he switches his focus back to the United States to search for today’s alternate routes. Molecular Red reads aspects of Soviet history through the lens of “what if?” in order to consider contemporary questions from the perspective “what now?” As he writes: “[t]here is no other world, but it can’t be this one” (xxi).
Molecular Red is an engaging and interesting read that introduces its readers to a raft of under-read thinkers – and its counsel against despair is worth heeding. And yet, by the book’s end, it is easy to come away with a sense that while it is true that “there is no other world” that it will, alas, almost certainly be exactly this one.