This post is part of a series: Adalbert Arcane’s expanded Notes & Theories to Beta Testing the Ongoing Apocalypse by Tom Kaczynski (Fantagraphics, 2022). This time we have Adalbert’s notes on two short “cozy catastrophe” [ 1 ] comics: Phase Transition and Cozy Apocalypse. All posts in this series can be accessed here.
The two stories form a diptych. The Cozy Apocalypse functions as a spiritual apotheosis to Phase Transition. The intense, primal wish to cleanse the world with a torrential flood ends in frantic splashing in a shallow muddy puddle; a welcome respite from the daily grind; a cozy catastrophe.
“Walter Gropius published photographs of Buffalo’s grain elevators in the Jahrbuch des Deutschen Werkbundes (Yearbook of the German Association of Craftsmen) in 1913 (the same year Marcel Duchamp made the first of his many Bicycle Wheels).” Ten years later, in Vers Une Architecture, Le Corbusier called grain silos “the first fruits of the New Age.”  Almost 100 years after the inauguration of modernist architecture, we live in the civilizational equivalent of an orchard strewn with rotting fruit.
When one first encounters a silo, there’s a feeling of uncanny familiarity. The structure’s shape and presence are like experiencing a primal form, a template [3+4] for the world we encounter today; a beautiful, functional form but hollow, drained of its original functionalist context.
Our present experience is akin to the cave dwellers of the past. The world was built by someone else. We dwell inside the crumbling infrastructure like Cro-magnon inside caves. Outside our limited horizons, we stumble on unusual structures ripped from times past. Their presence, crumbling and puzzling, is an avatar of a past golden age.
This is the state of the world. We indulge in apocalyptic scenarios like candy. We see the movies, read the books, and watch the news. “The apocalypse is around the corner! How awful! Why won’t somebody do something!? Wouldn’t our lives be more exciting if it really happened?”
We wonder performatively on social media from our cozy couches.
The personal is political. We have become accustomed to reading everything through a hyper-paranoid-critical lens. Signs of the apocalypse are everywhere. All events contain threads that connect them to something big and monstrous. We see local temperature fluctuations and immediately connect them to a global climate phenomenon. All phenomena resolve into apocalyptic hyperobjects.
The death of God left a void. Old rituals and myths that shaped the world around us have been displaced by the meaningless churn of particles, processes, and invisible forces. A new magical poetic has risen to fill the void: the butterfly effect. Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? [ 5 ]
We have become the butterflies, ritualistically flapping our wings, separating recycling, donating to causes, changing our social avatars, hoping not to trigger a tornado in Texas. Maybe if we flap a little less vigorously, preferably while comfortably watching the grim news, the tornado will not come? We monitor its progress on a billion screens,  unconsciously willing the worst-case scenarios into existence. “See, I told you it would happen! Global warming! ‘Nuff said!” We connect the dots on our cozy couches.
[ 1 ] In the 1970s, science-fiction writer Brian Aldiss coined the term “cozy catastrophe” to describe a fictional plot in which a bourgeois protagonist finds pleasure while the world goes to shit. “The essence of cozy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off,” Aldiss wrote. Quote from wired.com.
[ 2 ] “What Modernism Learned from the World’s First Grain Elevator” By Jennifer Kabat (https://www.frieze.com/article/what-modernism-learned-worlds-first-grain-elevator)
[ 3 ] The temple was the original template. The hidden source of Plato’s eternal forms, which he glimpsed during his initiation into the Eleusis Mysteries (“blessed sight and vision” witnessed in a “state of perfection” 3).
[ 4 ] Murarescu, Brian, The Immortality Key, p. 24
[ 5 ] According to Edward Norton Lorenz, an earlier formulation used a seagull instead of a butterfly: “One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a sea gull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The controversy has not yet been settled, but the most recent evidence seems to favor the sea gulls.” We could go back as far back as Fichte to find similar ideas: “you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby… changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.” Quote from scientificamerican.com
[ 6 ] What is the cost of all this real-time monitoring? According to Heisenberg, one implication of quantum physics is that the act of measurement always disturbs the object measured. “The physical reason behind this uncertainty is that measurement, by its very nature, requires using some sort of energy–for example, shining a light on the object to be measured. Light consists of discrete units, or quanta, of energy known as photons. Shining a light on an electron means bombarding it with photons, each of which has a big effect on the electron.” How does the Heisenberg principle square with Lorenz’s Butterfly? Is there a macro-version of the Heisenberg principle? How do you accurately measure planetary-scale climate phenomena without first creating planetary-scale measuring devices? And, simultaneously, do you not fundamentally alter the planet? The modern environmental movement, born on the first Earth Day (Apr. 22, 1970), was explicitly influenced by the images of Earth broadcast from the moon by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders (Christmas Eve; Dec. 24, 1968). Quote from bbc.com
- The Cozy Apocalypse; Adalbert Arcane’s Notes and Theories to Beta Testing the Ongoing Apocalypse
- Tintin in Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Nautical Chart
- Beta Testing the Ongoing Apocalypse: Adalbert Arcane’s Notes and Theories to the Sound Strips
- Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar 7-8 (1982)
- Mutants, Supermen, New Soviet Men, and Homo Superior: Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John