The Alan Turing building.
The inaugural Disaster Studies conference.
Lecturers from far and wide, come to discuss the disaster. Wow, they’ve really disastered the place up . . .
A giant projection on the wall: a winsome suicide bomber. A waif of destruction, on the edge of detonation. It can’t be . . . it is; the cheekbones are unmistakable: it’s Ultimate Destruction Girl herself. Great disaster branding.
Disaster Studies banners, with the winsome suicide bomber. Look at the Disaster Studies conference packs, with the winsome suicide bomber. Look at the Disaster Studies tote bags, with the winsome suicide bomber.
Publishers’ stands, with publishers’ reps, full of Disaster Studies enthusiasm. New Disaster Studies series from Polity, from Rowman and Littlefield, from Routledge, from Edinburgh University Press. Contemporary Thinkers of the Disaster . . . New Advances in Disaster Studies . . . Renewing Disaster Studies (but Disaster Studies is still very new . . . Disaster Studies has just been born . . . ).
Lecturers, browsing Disaster Studies books. Lecturers, reading Disaster Studies blurbs.
Surveying the scene.
Attendees from far and wide. Visitors from overseas. From main- land Europe. From the distant US . . .
Young would-be lecturers, just finished their PhDs, looking to make contacts, looking to impress. All dressed up. All on. Sporting their name tags . . .
Seasoned professors, with nothing to prove. Senior lecturers, on a weekend pass. In carnival spirits . . . Looking to flirt. Looking for intrigue. Looking for scandal. Looking for one-upmanship. What’s the collective noun? A gossiping of lecturers. A bitching of lecturers. A jockeying of lecturers . . .
Then the grandees. Very Important Academic People. Like, a different race to us. Thronged. Courted. Fussed over. Top of the tree in the new disaster star-system . . . And now Russell’s welcome speech. And now Russell, talking about the Disaster Humanities . . . a burgeoning multidisciplinary field . . . the most urgent and difficult of questions . . . world-catastrophe . . . the end- game of civilisation . . . the question of the future survival of humanity . . . the wrecking of the biosphere . . .
There’s life in the disaster, apparently. They’ve turned the end of the world into an academic fuel. They’ve given nihilism a funky new name. They’ve rebranded world-despair.
The end of the world, the end of everything, folded in upon itself.
Turned into an opportunity. A gravy train.
The French had already picked the disaster up and dropped it. The French, ahead as usual, had published a few books with désastre in the title, and moved on. But we Brits, we Anglophoners, really know how to wring the rag dry . . . How to build a whole Disaster Studies infrastructure. How to make disaster hay at our so-called unis . . .
It’s a gold rush! It’s a feeding frenzy! To be among the first to publish on the subject. Among the first to set the disaster agenda! Every- one will have to quote you! You’ll be invited to keynote at the new disaster conferences! Asked to examine disaster PhDs! Peer-review disaster book proposals!
Disaster’s on the up! The disaster’s there for the taking! It’s kinda trendy, kinda new uni, but that doesn’t matter. Oxford and Cam- bridge wouldn’t touch it, but that’s okay.
If only we were more ambitious! More careerist! The disaster could be the making of us. It could launch us. We might actually get an academic job . . . Ah, but we’re truer to the disaster, in our failure. We’re actually disastrous . . .
Contemplating PhD students from other unis. They’re actually into it. They’re actually enjoying it. They’re here to make an impression! To curry favour! To forge connections!
And we’re here, too.
An All Saints MA student panel. A paddling pool panel. Not yet the open sea, for them. Beginner’s armbands, for them. Giving ten-minute taster papers. Maiden voyages. And all of them as cute as baby penguins . . .
Ultimate Destruction Girl’s paper. Something about something. Sentient AI. Machine sex. Fully automated luxury communism. Who cares? Marcie Cares, capital C. Marcie’s asked a question . . . Marcie’s showing interest . . .
Ultimate Destruction Girl, confused. Ultimate Destruction Girl, discomfited.
But now Gita’s asked a question. Now Gita’s showing how it’s done. Appreciative . . . Tender . . . And Ultimate Destruction Girl, blooming as she answers. Smiling, eyes widening.
Bitcoin, looking jealous . . . Marcie, looking jealous . . . Afterwards.
Gita, straight up to Ultimate Destruction Girl. Shameless. Gita, leaning in. Cuteness meets cuteness. Gita, playing the older-sister stu- dent. Really fascinating how you . . . Loved it when you said . . . You were so right about . . .
And U.D. Girl, flattered. U.D. Girl, running her fingers through her hair.
Gita and U.D. Girl, orbiting one another. A binary star system of cuteness. U.D. Girl’s cute vintage dress. Gita’s cute vintage dress. It’s almost too much.
And Marcie, hovering behind. Marcie, all desperate. Marcie, un- able to get close . . .
And Gita and U.D. Girl, off, away, leaving us all behind. Gita and
U.D. Girl, escaping together, arm in arm . . .
Our turn. All Saints PhD students’ turn.
A tiny room. A projector. Bottles of water.
Very grown up. Very career-y. Very professional.
Twenty minutes each on our research projects. To an audience of each other, basically—and Ultimate Destruction Girl, come to watch Gita. And a couple of duty-bound members of academic staff . . .
Valentine, on deicide—the murder of God. Marcie, on antinominalism. On living life in the opposite direction. Me, on Modernist Gnostic resurgence. On the eternal return of evil. Ismail, on the anarchic breeze. On messianic shifts—sudden, catastrophic. Gita, on queer apocalyptic (with Ultimate Destruction Girl watching closely. Mouthing wow, wow, wow . . . ).
The conference keynote.
Professor Hélène Lagonelle, Paris VII. Imagine it: a real Parisian . . . A real Parisian, come to our crappy campus! Come to All Saints . . .
A former supervisee of Sarah Kofman . . . A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure . . . Dressed in high French style (pin- stripe suit, noir vibe) . . . Speaking fluent English . . . Speaking better-than-us English . . .
Thoughts from Paris! From unimaginable Paris! From in-an- other-universe Paris! You mean there really is a place called Paris? That you can actually come from Paris? From France? Does France actually exist?
No doubt Professor Lagonelle finds the very idea of Disaster Studies hilarious. No doubt her colleagues have told her all about the pathetic UK continental philosophy scene, but she wanted to see it for herself.
English monoglots, paraphrasing high French thought. British bumpkins, aping École Normale Supérieure philosophy . . .
We’re what happens when European philosophy goes wrong.
When it’s gone off. Gone decadent.
We’re, like, idiot twins of real philosophers. Of real European philosophers. Of real continental philosophers. Cut off from our main- land. In our own weird niche.
We’re developing strange characteristics. Like fish trapped in caves, whose eyes have de-evolved. Who’ve lost their pigmentation. Who’ve, like, atrophied.
We’ve set up our idiot shrines, with our versions of the great thinkers. Idiot-Heideggers. Dunce-Deleuzes. We’re venerating our icons. Repeating their vocabulary. We’ve made our cargo-cult version of the European greats.
Some growth between paving stones that someone forgot to spray: that’s us. Stunted thinkers. An inbred outpost. Weeds, wild weeds, left to grow unchecked, untrained . . .
A by-product: that’s us. Uintended. Not supposed to exist. Like mould grown on something in the fridge for months and months. Like a film of scum on European philosophy.
Someone should just hose us away! Someone should just power-wash us away!
The day over at last. Everyone to Ruin Bar . . . Drinking. Drinking more.
The melee. The mix-up. MA types, talking to grand ol’ keynotes.
PhD students, becoming strangely fascinating to faculty . . .
Academic seething. Academic swarming. Conference bacchanalia. Lecturers, trying small talk. Trying chat-up lines. Lecturers, out for the night, out of the study, away from books. Lecturers, out in the world, abroad. Not disembodied after all. Not scholar-ghosts, unused to daylight.
The unsociable, socialising. Study-recluses, out on the town.
Thought-albatrosses, walking clumsily on land instead of soaring in thought.
Big names, who’d be mingers anywhere else, drawing thought-groupies . . . Postgraduate nothings and no-ones appearing as beauties. As crush objects. Chatted up. Taken seriously. Listened to, which they’d never be normally . . .
And there are Gita and Ultimate Destruction Girl, hand in hand.
There are Gita and Ultimate Destruction Girl, kissing a little . . .
Marcie, in horror. Marcie, staggering from the bar. Marcie, like a great galleon, sinking with all hands. Tragic! Operatic! Woman down! Woman down!
We’ve never seen Marcie’s bowing out—leaving the field of battle. But here she is, laying down her arms. Here she is, abdicating. What will we do without our Boudicea? Without our Amazon queen?
Don’t collapse here, Marcie—not outside Ruin Bar! Not in the mancunian gutter! The mancunian sharks are circling! The mancu- nian vultures are hovering! The mancunian ecosystem knows what to do with the wounded!
Bundling Marcie into an Uber. Sending her home. Off she goes, defeated . . . (Marcie—defeated?! She should never be defeated!)
A thinning of the crowd. Soon, the bar will be closing. Soon, they’ll throw us all out.
Stray older lecturers, wanting to party with the postgraduates. Up for a night out.
Stray older types, who have a pass for the weekend. Who are off childcare duties. Who are a hundred miles from home and wanting to relive their youth . . .
Disaster Studies luminaries, turning to us. Editors of famous learned journals, seeking our guidance. Conference keynoters, con- sulting conference kids.
We’re not shy and awkward anymore. We’re not Insignificants anymore . . . We’re mancunian spirit guides. Mancunian Virgils and Beatrices. We’re lumpen leaders. Because we know the city, if nothing else.
Time to blossom. Time to spread our nightlife wings. Sure we’ll lead the way, if they can keep up . . .
Uptown. To the centre, with crowds of mancunian youth. Young and alive, with mancunian youth. Moving with the moving streets, with mancunian youth . . .
Is this what the revolution will be like, moving together like this? Everyone heading in the same direction, irresistibly, irrevocably . . .
Divinityonthemarch! Libertyordeath! Thecoming truth, incarnate!
The general will, irrepressible—fateful! A new dawn of humankind!
Our conference guests, falling away one by one. Our conference fol- lowers, lost in the crowds. Picked off by scavengers, probably. Mugged in alleyways, probably. Who cares? They’re Manchester’s now.
They wouldn’t have liked where we were going. The door staff would never have admitted them . . . The music would have been too loud . . . Proles wanna dance! Proles wanna dance away the conference!
Proles wanna dance away the academy! Proles wanna dance away the world!
From My Weil by Lars Iyer. Used with permission of the publisher, Melville House Books. Copyright © 2023 by Lars Iyer.