Review: Imperiled Life, by Javier Sethness-Castro

Revolutionary Tradition Against Climate Collaborators

By Sasha

Picking up Imperiled Life by Javier Sethness-Castro (AK Press 2012), I felt the urgency of the work immediately. Illustrated with profound, gorgeous art by the fabulous Just Seeds Collective, the work mobilizes through an active discourse between theory and science. Measuring the weight of 20th Century Continental and Post-Colonial theory by its accuracy in predicting the ecological crisis of today, Sethness-Castro looks to the classic works of the Frankfurt School to show the way forward for anticapitalist revolution.

If you wanted to find a book that honestly and faithfully lays out the disaster of climate change, this is the book to turn to. Refusing to establish borders between thought and action, Imperiled Life illustrates the integrity of critical theory, developed along the imperative that the Holocaust not be reproduced. “The radical violence, alienation, and destructiveness overseen and directed by prevailing power,” says Sethness-Castro, “is but the continuation of long-standing social trends that have gone on for millennia—totalitarianism grew out of imperialism and gapitalism, while hierarchy has been sustained by patriarchy and religion.” Through Sethness-Castro’s book, we can point to the reasons: Climate change is not some fluke scientific problem that we can figure out through technical, instrumental solutions. Climate change is related to the historic repression of political activists, the third world, and marginalized peoples.

But for Sethness-Castro, the motto remains: Don’t Mourn, Organize! “It is now imaginable,” says Sethness-Castro, “that inclusive, egalitarian antisystemic movements will develop in core societies, hand in hand with resistance movements the world over, from striking Chinese industrial workers to Arab antistatist protesters, revolutionary Kurds, Indian Marxists, indigenous peoples, and the victims of global militarism everywhere.” Any climate activist should take one look at this revolutionary assemblage and throw their fist in the air.

Solidarity on this broad of a scale is virtually unprecedented throughout the history of the struggle against colonialism. Thus, Sethness-Castro’s short book is more than a kind of accusation against the state form; it is also a call to action, not only of mass mobilizing, general striking praxis, but of love, friendship, and respect. “Radical exclusion would be overthrown,” he states, “with human multiplicity and plurality seen as traits to be cherished and celebrated rather than suppressed.” In this sense, we return to Sethness-Castro’s drawing upon the Frankfurt School as the inaugurator of Critical Theory, which helped to usher in women’s studies, post-colonial studies, black studies, latino studies, gender studies, and so on. Although the “identity politics” of such multitudinous, hermetic disciplines has been attacked in recent years by revolutionists seeking a simplicity of class analysis over a discursive polyphony of unconventional research, Sethness-Castro stands defiantly and firmly in defense of such diversity.

Generally, the problem with “multiculturalism” and “diversity” in academia lies in the usage of these words to undermine the intention of genuine scholarship with capitalist homogenization. In Imperiled Life, however, we find dignity, not hollow “diversity”, a bursting apart of institutional frames through what Chua called “polyversity” in 1982. The implications of this form of research tends to suggest further methodological expansion into set theory, differentials and combinatorics, and so on. Catherine Malabou has discovered fascinating principles of neuro-plasticity that suggest a sort of transversal potentiality of recovery, which could break through to establish revolutionary (anti)paradigms, while Bracha Ettinger has brought psychoanalysis to new levels of differentiation and combinatorics, considering a “matrixial borderspace” between subjects and objects. Of course, Alain Badiou is also particularly fascinating in his studies of “The Event” through a kind of existential set theory.

But how do we literally go about “changing the world”? In geographical terms Sethness-Castro points out a contradiction in David Harvey’s theories, pointing to an optimistic chance of a “neutralization” of the military industrial complex through mass, women-led, non-violent civil disobedience. However, Sethness-Castro also indicates that, in ignoring the postcolonial theorist and psychoanalyst, Franz Fanon, many contemporary theorists have exposed a lack of understanding of revolutionary tactics. What Imperiled Life calls for, in the end, is a social revolution, a revolution of the people to transform the institutions of society. In this sense, one gets the same feeling reading Sethness-Castro as with the Rebel Worker in the 1960s, and the contemporary lectures of Penelope Rosemont.

These are some ideas for the next routes that organizers can take to set Sethness-Castro’s brief, but thorough, exposition of the relationship between capital and ecology. In the meantime, those thinking philosophically about the reasons for climate change and the redemptive potential, if it exists at all, that can be derived from it, this book will come as a handy guide. It is a spontaneous and ecstatic read, which can be returned to for details, and has an important place on your bookshelf.

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