Today we are in Kagoshima meeting with UNESCO representatives interested in lobbying for former Japanese industrial sites to be granted world heritage status. Hashima, of course, is one of the sites. It will be interesting to hear what their view of heritage on Hashima is, and should be.
My own view – and this seems to be shared by many in Nagasaki, both consciously and unconsciously – is that island should be left as a monument to entropy, an ecological monument that would at once provide a critique of the folly of past industrial practices and hold out hope for a different future, a future where human beings are no longer considered as ‘lords and masters of the universe’.
In the entropic ruins of Hashima, all sorts of flora and fauna are beginning to emerge, and the kites from the mainland have started to return. The island buzzes with the sound of cicadas. I was shocked by how green it was.
Contrast this with Greenless Island, the English title of a Japanese movie set on Hashima in the 1950s. The film stock has been lost, apparently, but we saw some stills from it in the small museum to Gunkanjima that we visited on Monday. From the little I saw of it, the film looked like a social realist tragedy, a story of doomed love. Brian thought that there would be no happy ending.
Contrast this too with the melancholic black and whiteness of all those beautifully sad images of Hashima, ruin porn.
In the train trips between destinations, I have been reading Franco Berardi’s collection of essays After the Future. It’s a sobering book, full of pessimistic and complex insights; one of which is found in his critique of the narcissistic mindset that operates in political activism. For Berardi, whose history was – and still is – bound up with various forms of activist politics in Italy and France, activism hides depression, and is prey to what Lauren Berlant, in a very different context, has called ‘cruel optimism’. Against activism, Berardi argues for passivity and disconnection, in unplugging and refusing. His politics, then, could be a called a politics of enjoyment, a politics where hope (which is always futural) gives ground to pleasure (which is of the now). Bartelby, the strange, passive hero of Herman Melville’s novel Bartelby the Scrivener comes to mind. But then I am reminded too of Bartelby’s sad fate in the poor house…
In After the Future, there’s a very interesting moment where Berardi references Baudrillard’s The Transparency of Evil, and uses the image – it’s a cosmic image – of debt circling the earth like a meteor shower. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the meteor shower has hit the earth.
What fascinates me here is how metaphors of natural history are increasingly used to speak about human history, as if the two are now inseparable, and needed to be treated simultaneously. In a sense, this is the core of Berardi’s book, and it explains his interest in passivity and pleasure, in abandoning the activist drive to create future scenarios, to defer pleasure for an image that we are castigated into labouring for. Berardi wants us to give up on the future – or at least the twentieth century idea of it – and to ‘exalt tenderness, sleep, and ecstasy, the frugality of needs and the pleasures of the senses’.
More or less eighteen months after the Club of Rome published the influential text The Limits to Growth and Nicolas Georgescu-Roegen The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, Hashima island was being abandoned in the hope of continuing the Japanese economic miracle…a mere stay of execution…the transfer from coal to oil….a different type of fossil fuel.
How do we create a monument to that? A monument to a future that has passed?