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Reply To: Don’t Look Up: The Doomsday Dilettante,” with mythologist Norland Téllez”


    So glad that you brought up Naomi Klein, whose thesis is also running in the back of my mind, as Don’t Look Up can be said to be a mythic globalized instance of what she calls “disaster capitalism”, otherwise known as the “shock doctrine.” The obscene notion that we should attempt to profit from the human suffering and oppression that we may directly or indirectly cause.
    I also like your zeroing in on the aspect of true mystery, which is, in the first instance, a quality of unknowable Nature, Nature beyond the reach of human meaning and purpose, beyond the human, all-too-human web of significances. For even in understanding the laws of nature, we do not come close to understanding why they exist, why they are just so and not otherwise.

    This transcendent mystery also extends right into our human nature, which may come to face us in the unknown nature of the human experiment. The meteor then becomes a mythic projection of the collision course of the self—both collective and individual—at the intersection of myth and history.

    The hurling comet is the secret identity into which we were born and in which we actively participate, re-creating and reproducing a global system which has become sustainable.The transcendent mystery of the comet is announced with these words uttered by Dr. Mindy when he first spotted the comet with the naked eye: “It’s horrific and it’s… And it’s beautiful at the same time.”

    What in the world can bring together the qualities of the horrific and the beautiful at the same time? Are we not here in the presence of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans? The “noumenous” is here written in prose as something that appears both horrific and beautiful at the same time. Dr. Mindy, without the need of great poetry or mysticism, can express the essence of such an encounter with the Divine by simply describing what everyone can see now with the naked eye. As we know, such paradoxical descriptions—a component of the Hegelian dialectics— effectively serve to collapse the function of meaning and identity within human language, like the alchemical description of the polymorphous lapis as “the stone that is not a stone.” And if you listen to film composer Nicholas Brittell’s track for this moment, entitled “The Comet Appears,” the qualities of a transcendent mystery becoming manifest to the common person is perfectly invoked:
    The important thing here is the placement of the mystical experience within the reach of the common person, the average citizen with their oversimplified ways of thinking.

    I should say that this moment is not necessarily a sign of failure as it would have happened anyways, even if humanity had managed the correct response. What it is is simply a sign of the inevitable and what is to come.

    I totally agree, by the way, for the need of more complex thinking. But we should perhaps talk here about the difference between the language of science or a discipline and the language of its popularization. One thing is for experts to talk to each other at the cutting edge of their research, another is to make these sights accessible to the wider public.

    On the other hand, being a Hegelian myself, I cannot but turn around this problem of simplicity. As it seems to me, the true mark that one has reached that higher level of complex thinking, say, to be able to understand Hegel or Einstein, means that one has been able to recognize the enormous simplicity of their schemes and language. I’ve always kept in mind Einstein’s motto to “make everything as simple as possible—but not any simpler!” General relativity, therefore, is an extreme simplification of the cosmos—but who would call it anything but simple?

    So when it comes to a popularizing style for such insights, we are dealing with a different sort of simpliciter simplicity. There are at least these two senses of the notion of simplicity, not one necessarily better than the other, but each appropriate to its particular context.