After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes

After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes

JEAN-LUC NANCY
TRANSLATED BY CHARLOTTE MANDELL
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 72
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13wzxp3
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  • Book Info
    After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes
    Book Description:

    In this book, the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy examines the nature of catastrophes in the era of globalization and technology. Can a catastrophe be an isolated occurrence? Is there such a thing as a "natural" catastrophe when all of our technologies nuclear energy, power supply, water supply are necessarily implicated, drawing together the biological, social, economic, and political? Nancy examines these questions and more. Exclusive to this English edition are two interviews with Nancy conducted by Danielle Cohen-Levinas and Yuji Nishiyama and Yotetsu Tonaki.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6342-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. After Fukushima:: The Equivalence of Catastrophes
    • Preamble
      (pp. 3-8)

      The subtitle should not mislead: Not all catastrophes are equivalent, not in amplitude, not in destructiveness, not in consequences. A tsunami without repercussions for a nuclear installation is not the same as a tsunami that seriously damages a nuclear plant. Negligence in managing this plant opens up yet another register of gravity.

      Nuclear catastrophe—all differences military or civilian kept in mind—remains the one potentially irremediable catastrophe, whose effects spread through generations, through the layers of the earth; these effects have an impact on all living things and on the large-scale organization of energy production, hence on consumption as...

    • 1
      (pp. 9-11)

      To philosophize after Fukushima”—that is the mandate I was given for this conference.¹ Its wording inevitably makes me think of Adorno’s: “To write poetry after Auschwitz.” There are considerable differences between the two. They are not the differences between “philosophy” and “poetry” since we know those two modes or registers of spiritual or symbolic activity share a complex but strong proximity. The differences, of course, are those between “Fukushima” and “Auschwitz.” These differences should certainly not be ignored or minimized in any way. They should, however, be correctly understood. I think that is necessary if I want to give...

    • 2
      (pp. 12-14)

      What is common to both these names, Auschwitz and Hiroshima, is a crossing of limits—not the limits of morality, or of politics, or of humanity in the sense of a feeling for human dignity, but the limits of existence and of a world where humanity exists, that is, where it can risk sketching out, giving shape to meaning. The significance of these enterprises that overflow from war and crime is in fact every time a significance wholly included within a sphere independent of the existence of the world: the sphere of a projection of possibilities at once fantastical and...

    • 3
      (pp. 15-16)

      As soon as we undertake this bringing together, this continuity, a contradiction seems to arise: The military atom is not the civilian atom; an enemy attack is not a country’s electrical grid. It is here that the grating poetry of this vexatious rhyme opens onto philosophy: What can “after Fukushima” mean?

      It is a question first of all of what “after” means. Certain “after” s have rather the value of “that which succeeds,” that which comes later on: That is the value we have given to the “post” prefix set next to, for instance, “modern” in “postmodern,” which designates the...

    • 4
      (pp. 17-20)

      Let us start again from what these two testimonies tell us: Civilization, irremediable? Civilization of the irremediable or an irremediable civilization? I think, in fact, that the question of after Fukushima is posed in these terms. They are, moreover, more or less the terms Freud used in speaking of what he calledDas Unbehagen in der Kultur, that is, lessmalaiseordiscontentin English (although both are correct translations) thanmal-être(ill-being): Freud sees nothing in these other than the fact that humanity is in a position to destroy itself thanks to our mastery over natural forces.¹ Freud had...

    • 5
      (pp. 21-23)

      What Fukushima adds to Hiroshima is the threat of an apocalypse that opens onto nothing, onto the negation of the apocalypse itself, a threat that depends not just on military use of the atom and perhaps not even on the sole use of the atom in general. Actually, these uses themselves are part of a larger configuration where the deepest lineaments of our civilization are sketched.

      Military use gives us an idea of this configuration. Nuclear weapons have engendered by their power a strategy of dissuasion sometimes hailed as a new condition of peace and often called the “balance of...

    • 6
      (pp. 24-26)

      With equivalence and the incalculable we have already extended our perspective beyond nuclear use by the military. In fact, with these two features we can characterize not just the general use of nuclear energy but, even more widely, the nature of the general disposition of force in this world we have given ourselves.

      Equivalence means the state of forces that govern themselves in some way by themselves. Whether it is a question of a broken nuclear reactor or a bomb, whether the reactor or the weapon is more or less powerful, the excessiveness of their effects in space and time...

    • 7
      (pp. 27-29)

      The incommensurability of the same and the other cannot be related to the incalculability of what challenges our power to decide. No one can truly calculate the consequences of Fukushima, for humans, for the region, the earth, the streams, and the sea, for the energy economy of Japan, for calling into question, abandoning, or increasing control of nuclear reactors all over the world, and thus for the energy economy worldwide. But all this is incalculable because it challenges the capacities of calculation whereas, at the same time, what we plan or project remains within the order of calculation, even if...

    • 8
      (pp. 30-32)

      Fukushima is a powerfully exemplary event because it shows the close and brutal connections between a seismic quake, a dense population, and a nuclear installation (under inadequate management). It is also exemplary of a node of complex relationships between public powers and private management of the installation, not to mention all the other chains of correlation that extend out from that starting point.

      We should not think that the conjunction produced in Fukushima is exceptional. It is certainly not so in Japan, but nor is it on the world scale. It is true that an earthquake and a fragile nuclear...

    • 9
      (pp. 33-37)

      Now we have come beyond the meaning that Marx gave his phrase. For him, the equivalence of money could be demystified in favor of the living reality of a production whose social truth is the creation of true humanity. That was for him the historical task of capitalism, to lead to its own transcendence.

      We are in the midst of another transcendence, which is that of the dissipation of any vision of a “true humanity.” The possibility of representing a “total” human, free from alienation, emancipated from all natural, economic, and ideological subjection, has faded away in the very progress...

    • 10
      (pp. 38-42)

      The present I evoke thus is not the present of the immediate, that of the pure and simple inert position where reason and desire are fixed in stupor or in repletion, without past or future, nor is it one of the fleeting or lightning-quick instant of decision, that exemplary decision made by the trader who shifts millions from one account to another: This present is one in which we are escaping toward a future that we desire and that we want to ignore at the same time (which does not prevent us from escaping also toward a past of nostalgia...

  4. Questions for Jean-Luc Nancy
    (pp. 43-50)
    Jean-Luc Nancy, YUJI NISHIYAMA and YOTETSU TONAKI

    Y.N. AND Y.T.: The Japanese translation of your bookAfter Fukushimahad quite an impact on Japan, since it’s the first sincere, valuable response by a foreign philosopher to Fukushima. After the catastrophe in Fukushima, your book revealed from a broad perspective a philosophical reflection on the configuration of capitalism and technology (you once called itécotechnie,“ecotechnology”) which produced a serious catastrophe in our civilization.

    Allow me to ask one of the questions missing from your thinking: It’s the question of the victim, or the work of mourning after the catastrophe. The characteristic of catastrophe is a large number...

  5. It’s a Catastrophe! Interview with Jean-Luc Nancy
    (pp. 51-60)
    Jean-Luc Nancy and DANIELLE COHEN-LEVINAS

    D.C.-L.: In a book you calledAfter Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, which you wrote in 2012, after the Fukushima catastrophe, you write:

    The “equivalence” of catastrophes here means to assert that the spread or proliferation of repercussions from every kind of disaster hereafter will bear the mark of the paradigm represented by nuclear risk.

    In other words, the effects of a catastrophe are henceforth to be thought of in terms of interconnection, or the “symbiosis of technologies” (your words). It is a question, then, of catastrophic equivalence, in the literal sense of the word.

    Does this equivalence, which includes...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 61-64)