In this post-apocalyptic rollercoaster ride, philosopher Srecko Horvat invites us to explore the Apocalypse in terms of 'revelation' (rather than as the 'end' itself). He argues that the only way to prevent the end - i.e., extinction - is to engage in a close reading of various interconnected threats, such as climate crisis, the nuclear age and the ongoing pandemic. Drawing on the work of neglected philosopher Günther Anders, this book outlines a philosophical approach to deal with what Horvat, borrowing a term from climate science and giving it a theological twist, calls 'eschatological tipping points'. These are no longer just the nuclear age or climate crisis, but their collision, conjoined with various other major threats - not only pandemics, but also the viruses of capitalism and fascism. In his investigation of the future of places such as Chernobyl, the Mediterranean and the Marshall Islands, as well as many others affected by COVID-19, Horvat contends that the 'revelation' appears simple and unprecedented: the alternatives are no longer socialism or barbarism - our only alternatives today are a radical reinvention of the world, or mass extinction.
After the Apocalypse is an urgent call not only to mourn tomorrow's dead today but to struggle for our future while we can.
Climate Crisis: Back to the Future Mediterranean
That evening a carpenter knocked on his door and said to him: 'Let me help you build an ark, so that it may become false.' Later a roofer joined them, saying: 'It is raining over the mountains, let me help you, so that it may become false.' Then a helmsman came, wiped the first drop of rain from his hair and said: 'What maps will be of any use tomorrow? I come empty-handed. But let me help you, so that it may become false.
Günther Anders, Die beweinte Zukunft, 1961
On the importance of wind
'I never understood wind', said Donald Trump in his winter retreat at Mar-a-Lago in Florida a few days after he became the third president in US history to be impeached, rambling on about wind turbines that he, as if he was a sinister postmodern version of Don Quixote, called 'windmills' that are 'monsters' that 'kill many bald eagles'.1 He continued: 'You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe.'2
As I was returning back to my seemingly 'tiny' world of my beloved island in the midst of the Adriatic Sea in mid-November 2019, little did I know that Vis3 would soon be turned into a sort of 'excluded zone', an island separated from the mainland by high waves and wild sea, literally cut off for more than a week because of the one thing Donald Trump obviously doesn't understand - namely, the wind. The coastal city of Split, from where I would take the ferry, packed with tourists during the summer season, felt ghostly and empty. But luckily, it was just the usual Mediterranean autumn spleen. Split wasn't flooded yet. It wasn't radioactive. Coronavirus hadn't yet arrived.
In fact, jugo (literally meaning 'southern'), which is as different from a refreshing wind as it can get, never felt so good - like a breeze of relief on the deck of the ferry Petar Hektorovic,4 which was just departing from Split to the island of Vis during that windy warm autumn evening. But as everyone from the Mediterranean knows, wind can often trick you. As the lights from the coast were disappearing in the night, a full moon emerged above the horizon and the waves were already playing with the ferry, always getting stronger as we approach the open sea.
During summer, this characteristic south and southeast Mediterranean wind usually lasts for several days, but during its peak in November it doesn't stop for more than ten continuous days. If you happen to experience jugo for the very first time, you might even come to think it is a pleasant wind. During summer it creates unusually high waves (sometimes turning into a wind locally known as garbin), while the air remains hot as if there was no wind at all. But if you ever experienced jugo for a longer period, especially during late autumn, when the relentless howling causes a peculiar state of mind, then it can become quite an unpleasant experience. Originating in the Sahara Desert, during winter it brings more rainfall and higher waves, usually speeding up to 100 kilometres per hour, and continuing for days with the same strength, sometimes even reaching hurricane speeds in North Africa and Southern Europe. It doesn't come suddenly; it blows continuously, getting stronger day by day, accompanied by low dark-grey clouds and sometimes thunder, turning into a storm after the third day.
Due to the humidity, low barometric pressure, grey skies and storms, jugo became so notorious that during the time of the Republic of Dubrovnik (originally named the Republic of Ragusa, which existed from 1358 until 1808), a special law was introduced stating that no Council sessions, decisions or laws were allowed to take place during the juzina. The south wind brought politics to a standstill for as long as it continued to blow. Even crimes that were committed during heavy southerly winds were treated with more leniency.
From today's perspective, this might sound as if Dubrovnik was really a city from The Game of Thrones (as most of the contemporary tourists perceive it and travel there precisely in order to see this fictional location), but the original history of the Republic of Ragusa was way more interesting than any Hollywood fantasy. For centuries and even millennia, there was a rich vernacular culture and knowledge in the Mediterranean - overwritten, in the meantime, by the history of nation-states, global tourism or the film industry - that was very well aware that wind can not only determine whether rain will fall, but it can also affect people's mood or health and, as the Republic of Ragusa and other cities on both sides of the Adriatic Sea, including Venice or Naples, knew very well, it is a wind that might even lead you to commit a crime - or suicide.
Probably one of the best descriptions of sirocco comes from a Scottish traveller who visited Italy in the eighteenth century and published a book called A Tour through Sicily and Malta, in a Series of Letters to William Beckford, Esq., of Semrly in Suffolk (1773). When he was in the Province of Naples, the wind had already been blowing for six days without intermission and 'has indeed blown away all our gaiety and spirits; and if it continues much longer', he added, 'I do not know what may be the consequence'.5 Then he mentions a story about a Parisian marquis who had been there ten days earlier and was so full of 'animal spirits' that the people thought he was mad:
He never remained a moment in the same place; but, at their grave conversations, used to skip from room to room with such amazing elasticity, that the Italians swore he had got springs in his shoes. I met him this morning, walking with the step of a philosopher; a smelling bottle in his hands, and all his vivacity extinguished. I asked him what was the matter? 'Ah, mon ami,' said he, 'I am near to death. I, who never knew the meaning of the word ennui. Mais cet execrable vent, if it lasts even two days more, I will hang myself.'6
Perhaps this is the best description of sirocco. In short, if you don't kill someone, you might end up killing yourself. And there might even be a pharmacological explanation to it. When in the mid-1970s an Israeli pharmacologist named Felix Sulman began testing the urine of people who were particularly bothered by the blowing of the sharav, the Israeli version of sirocco, he found out that those people who suffered from nausea, migraines, irritability and insomnia just before and after the sharav exhibited a tenfold increase in their serotonin levels. The hot dry wind (sharav) led to increased degrees of ionization in the atmosphere, which, as a result, induced a higher serotonin release.7 While serotonin is usually associated with inducing a sense of happiness, too much serotonin obviously creates the opposite effect - melancholy, and even ennui - as the Parisian in Naples knew very well. But it's not just a crazy marquis; obviously, we are all 'weather-sensitive' individuals.
For centuries and even thousands of years, people had a shared knowledge about the climate and weather patterns in the Mediterranean, understanding it as something that has not just psychical effects but also deep psychological consequences. Wind was - and still is, whatever Donald Trump thinks about it - much more than just wind. The settlements of ancient cities across the Mediterranean, from Egypt to the Adriatic islands, were positioned and built not only with the wind itself in mind, but with how wind and climate affects agriculture, where exactly to cultivate olive trees or wine, how to navigate the seas. It was a sort of 'place-making' that was taking into account climate disruptions, from floods to drought.
Our ancestors didn't only know that, without the wind - this extraordinary circulatory system of our planet connecting climate and cultures, languages and emotions - the Earth would be uninhabitable. They were also aware that the wind - just like the sea, or the atmosphere, the stars and planets - was something more than just moving air. Maybe they still didn't know how to explain the ionization of the atmosphere and the role of serotonin, but they knew very well that sirocco, or any other wind, certainly has effects on the population, agriculture, economy, society, psychology - and on the future itself.
If there was a wind in November coming from the south, besides implementing special 'wind laws', the place-makers of ancient coastal cities knew that huge waves, rainfalls and high tides were coming too. In other words, 'place-making' didn't only depend on merely predicting the weather, but on knowing and understanding the climate, this ultimate system of complexities. Today, this knowledge, at least when it comes to most of the world's governments and populist leaders, seems to be forgotten - or they simply care more about extraction and expansion of capital than about the future of the planet, global warming and rising sea levels.
When we read Donald Trump's ramblings about the wind ('I never understood wind'), it seems we are...