No Fallout, Not Now

One has to distinguish between this “reality” of the nuclear age and the fiction of war. But, and this would perhaps be the imperative of a nuclear criticism, one must also be careful to interpret critically this critical or diacritical distinction. For the “reality” of the nuclear age and the fable of nuclear war are perhaps distinct, but they are not two separate things.[1]

No Fallout, not now.  I’ve got work to do.  Books to read.  Writing to attend to.  Firmly, I must decline your invitation, deflect your advance, reject your seductions of nuclear waste and romantic post-apocalypticism.  No, Fallout; I shall resist my life’s melting at the border of your nuclear war, your diagesis, your critical imperative.  May god have mercy on my productivity.

No Fallout, Not Now.  Jacques Derrida, in a 1984 issue of Diacritics, takes on the speed and sheer imminence of global mass suicide by nuclear auto-obliteration: “No Apocalypse, Now Now”[2].  ‘Speed’ appears as an irreducible new phenomenon of the Cold War era.  Speed is a temporality of us collectively careening towards our ownmost destruction.  There is no right speed.  Speed is an ever-present, in which we immerse ourselves critically to confront ‘remainderless destruction’, the perspective of the (final) war, “the first war which can be fought in the name of the name alone, that is, of everything and of nothing.”[3]  A war not quite between Being and non-Being, but between Being and its Other, non-Being for it. 

The idea evokes the image of Dr. Strangelove’s Major Kong, riding the atom bomb like a rodeo bull, full speed ahead… 

I load up Fallout 4 for the first time.  I am telling myself that this does not constitute procrastination.  I am thrust into a new world with astonishing, decentering and dislocating speed.  I awaken.  I have a wife and a son.  I have a robot.  My family has place in Vault 111.  Nuclear weaponry obliterates several major American cities.  I am thrust into Vault, cryogenically frozen (asleep through the war) and awakened to behold my wife’s murder and my son’s capture.  It is a new world into which I am so violently thrown.  These events make up the first few moments of gameplay in Fallout.

We expect this speed with the apocalypse; apocalypse promises to be cataclysmic, a truly explosive spectacle.  Fallout consummates this expectation.  But we are not so much ‘fallen’, as ‘thrown’ into the fable of the post-apocalyptic nuclear age.  For Heidegger, Verfallenheit (‘fallenness’) had to do with the historical and factical situation into which Being finds itself always already born: for example, in Being & Time, where Heidegger sets up Being as that for which its own Being is a problem, something encountered in the state of its ‘fallenness’.  By contrast, we can say that ‘thrownness’ is Verfallenheit with a violence; it is ‘fallenness’ complemented by speed.  As such, we are torn up and plunged into Fallout the nuclear fable, amidst echoes of warheads and mushroom clouds on the horizon.

But we may interrogate our expectation that the post-apocalyptic world will be one into which we are thrown.  It is interesting to consider our enduring romantic fascination with nuclear war, with imminent and actual environmental catastrophe overcoming us in the real.  Climate change and looming disaster in the modern geological era of the Anthropocene is, too, bound up with the question of speed, as something irreducible in it.  The essential speed of humanity qua techno-scientific anarcho-market labour-powered wage-slaves is bound to the ecological crisis with chains, each absolutely overcoming the other, the nuclear speed of the techno-human elevated to an ontological principle for the world in which it finds itself fallen.  While speed is an irreducible element of the current crisis of anthropogenic climate change, humanity finds itself so absolutely overcome by it (its ownmost crisis!) that its experience is more of a fallenness than a thrownness.  As a fallenness, it is not typically perceived as a violence, not essentially different from other historical and factical situations of our individual experiences of being that infinitely exceed us.

However, the evidence is overwhelming on this point, that anthropogenic climate change is a violence, that its violence injures poorer nations with unequal and greater severity compared to nations whose contribution to the climate crisis is greater, that it injures future generations of humanity as well as other forms of life on Earth.

Must our recognition of this violence be only as a thrownness?  Or may we make a turn, from fallenness into thrownness, or vice versa, as one who experiences themselves falling forward in a dream, only rapidly to awaken shooting upright from their bed?

In Fallout, the environment is our foremost threat, rather than any faction or any arms of war.  The entire landscape is heavily irradiated.  All that gives sustenance is toxic, a sickness.  We are even asleep (cryogenically frozen) during the initial mass nuclear destruction, only to be thrown out spinning into the new world, with a new purpose, and a new threat that is absolutely overcoming and identifiable as such: the post-nuclear environment.  In the act of waking, the former world is dissolved, as a dream.  We are fallen into the post-apocalyptic world of the nuclear fable by way of thrownness into the Vault.  In this way, we might suggest that Fallout subverts the expectation of the apocalypse as a waking cataclysm into which we are thrown.  We are to recognize that our waking world – a dream world held in a tension over its own dissolution – is only the dream world of a non-apocalyptic present, where speed is reducible to humanity as something that has not overcome it, and where what is really said by our self-assurance of the dream world is only a self-effacing deferral: No Apocalypse, Not Now. 

And so we are thrown, Vaulted, into the world of Fallout, which is just to say a ‘fallenness’.  The dream held in tension is dissolved, and our immediate encounter with violence is carried through to the fallen world, an encounter as something ecological.  Speed has also been subverted here, as if whipped around a massive gravitational center and set upon a new arc; it becomes a velocity, and thereby possesses of it some direction.  And yet the direction shall ever be constant should we continue to see Earth as the bomb, ourselves riding it into the waste and void of annihilation, seeing ourselves set out on a frenzied path upon which speed is our only reckoning.

[1] Derrida, “No Apocalypse, Not Now (full speed ahead, seven missiles, seven missives)” in Diacritics / summer 1984, 23.

[2] Derrida, “No Apocalypse, Not Now,” 20-31.

[3] Ibid., 30.