For the sun or for tear gas

Like so much else of global importance, the Honduran "coup" was only able to hold American media and public attention for a fleeting flood of images and misinformation. The situation has not quietly gone away. Go read Joseph Shansky's account of conditions on the ground, of continued resistance and repression.

Gnawing at the air

It is now a commonplace for theorists and critics to elevate zombie films, along with their other gory brethen of splatter and dismemberment oriented film, for telling us something new about the "real." (Or, when those who read psychoanalysis get their/our hands on them, the "Real.") As in the following:

- The primal "real", some deep reptilian urges that get to return in all their anti-Rousseau fury, tearing away at living bodies like very ignoble savages.

- The thought of zombies as a kind of meta return of the repressed, the "Real" of contemporary life that cannot be included in the dominant symbolic order: a loopy perverted death drive whose cannibalism parodies the drives to excess consumption, thereby making the zombies mindless consumers or pitiless capitalists snatching up the weak, depending who you ask.

- What's "really" going on, the zombies as manifestations of racial, class, and gender conflict, as well as registering the anxieties and resistances to contemporary events.

- The forbidden, visceral, abject real of the body, the getting to see all the bloody bits brought to the surface, the abstract spirit of the mind rendered into just one more pile of succulent warm nutrition. Spirit is not a bone, it is the juicy bits encased within bone.

Fair enough. But our interest is in a different set of reals that map onto the particularity of what the figure of the zombie does and how it is positioned, uncertainly, in the mass culture of capitalism. Namely, it thinks how real abstractions work on real bodies, of the nastiest intersections of the law of value and the law of inevitable decay.*

And more specifically, it thinks this via two central concerns:

reanimation (transmission)

consumption (hunger)

In each pairing, the latter term is not the underlying cause, contrary to appearances. Romero-zombies are not reanimated because of infectious transmission of a "zombie disease" from the bite of a zombie, at least not until we get to the recent 28 Days Later model. They are reanimated because the world has changed in a way we can't determine. (How did the dead get the message to rise up? And why weren't we informed?) And they do not eat because of "hunger", in any physiological way: think here of the remarkable moment in Day of the Dead where Dr. Logan has removed all the vital organs of the vivisected zombie to watch it still strain to tear the flesh from his hands, its grashing teeth clamping down again and again on the air...

Rather, the latter term is the asubjective truth of the activity: it is the obscure center of a thought that exceeds what a zombie does or does not do, not verified by the reason why an individual subject, albeit necrotic and "without reason", acts a certain way. Hunger decoupled from the act of sating hunger, and transmission that we cannot trace. Each is the absent cause produced by the activity: precisely because it is not the reason for doing these things (the dead rising and the dead eating the living), it is raised in relief, the strange shadow undergirding and blackly illuminating the deeper workings of a totality. It is the point of the whole enterprise, from yawning graves to gnawing meat, precisely because it is missing from it. For what is hunger at its barest and most obscene if not a consumption that cannot end, for the very fact that it was never caused by hunger in the first place?

* I'm leaving out here a much longer, and rather theoretically dense, account of the relationship between cultural objects and real abstractions. It'll be in the much extended version of these thoughts in the book. If interested, search "real abstraction" on the blog to find my other discussions of it - there are far more than there need be.

Through the motions, wrongly

Unsettled beginnings

Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), the real launching point of zombies in mass culture, is one of those odd "foundational" films. It has its antecedents, to be sure, in three major strands. First, the voodoo inflected zombies of Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932), Jacques Torneurs's I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and the shoddy knock-offs of both (i.e. the remarkable/awful Zombies on Broadway from 1945). Second, and more directly in terms of inspiring what Romero was "trying to do," Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend. (This would also include Ubaldo Ragona's 1964 film adaptation, The Last Man on Earth, in which we watch a survivor defend a house against hordes of the invading undead, perhaps the most common image across zombie movies.) Third, a tangled mess of aesthetic influences that give the film its distinct look: film noir lighting, Psycho-era Hitchcock camera angles, news reel footage, art-house discontinuous cutting and spatial disorientation, and the basic fact of doing the whole thing for very, very little money, and hence having the look at times dictated by what was available. All that said, Night of the Living Dead represents a shot in the dark: excepting the third strand of all the formal and aesthetic elements cobbled together, it is a notable, singular film, in just how far it goes in leaving behind those antecedents.

But like other horror films that seemingly start a trope (Nosferatu, Frankenstein, etc), they are already weirder and more sharply knowing about their absent source material than they "should" be: they seem to play with and off of an established template that cannot be found.* In other words, they are the films that themselves establish the rules of the game, from the "look" of the film, the kinds of stock characters and settings, broad tones and set moves, and the effect they are aim to have on the audience. Yet at the same time, they are already screwing around with those very rules: they define a genre by the way that they "misread" source material that wasn't there, at least not in any immediately accessible direct lineage way.

In other words, like other films that inaugurate endless series of imitators, spin-offs, reloads, mash-ups, and sequels, the "original" is original largely because it nails something about "what we've seen before" and know very well. What is new it articulates via the inherited tropes and moves of the old: the inherited language of film conventions eases us in and makes even that which we've never seen before seem familiar, well-worn, and expected. Conversely, what seems recognizable immediately, the "ah, yes, here we go again", is precisely the point of immediate departure into the uncertain, where it turns and goes the wrong way. Fittingly for the film that starts "the zombie film" per se, the uncanny and unsettling happens because something "goes through the motions" wrongly, just like the zombie's obscene parody of the movements and habits of everyday life. What the zombie film in particular offers, both in its content and in its relation to other films, is that the minor gap between the inertia of expected behavior or patterns and the yearning pull - affective, physiological, or historical - in another direction is that very gap, that crack in the totality of a system, through which the unwanted pour in.

Outside, looking in

Think here of the beginning of Night of the Living Dead, where the first zombie we see - the first recognizable zombie of late capitalism - looks like nothing so much as a homeless drifter of sorts, a gaunt raggedy man. Tellingly, Barbara and Johnny, her soon-to-be-killed-and-zombified brother, hardly pay him a second glance: at worst, he'll ask them to spare some change. He is not marked as undead, at least not in the technical sense. Just as unwanted. Therein lies the explosion out of and against the accepted codes of who we recognize and who we don't: the zombie's furious attack, which here has nothing to do with trying to eat them, is the feral assertion of the right to be noticed. Even to the end of the encounter, we can practically read on Johnny's face the bourgeois frustration: funny, it's not usually this hard to kill the poor...

* This approach to genre-defining horror films is entirely indebted to Marsh Leicester, whose way of thinking about these odd lineages inflects my thinking throughout this project.

Grave lessons

May 68 poster

Where the Situationist International and zombies meet. Our trajectory through the buried politics of the undead might start here with the bloodied, one-eyed glare of the accusing, raised up to get beaten down again, the endless cycle of not being allowed to die and being blamed for that fact. Not the campy schlock of the mass moaning "brains..." but the quiet rage and planning of the group in formation. Bourgeois, you have understood nothing, and we have some things to teach you. The collective pedagogy of those beyond the pale.

Horrors: Day of the Dead

Given that I'm stuck in zombie writing mode, I'm hijacking the direction of the group for the next two weeks and derailing us off werewolves. Therefore...

Day of the Dead, from '85. Third in the Romero series. Sure many of you have seen it, but it's odder, sadder, and weirder than often remembered. The military industrial underground complex. Bub the pseudo-domesticated zombie. The apocalypse that doesn't ever quite transition to post-apocalyptic. Infighting, petty squabbles, "friendly" fire, and all the other things we do to help hasten the end of our days.

Wednesday, my house, 8:30.

The city of the dead in the city of quartz

It is time to move on toward zombies. The long trek through The Bed Sitting Room finished (and the salvagepunk chapter of which that reading is a part), the next uneven apocalypse in question is that incessant figure of recent years, the horde of the walking dead. The transition, as it were, from robbing history's graves to those who rob their own graves.

Perhaps appropriately, I'm quite sick of zombie culture in its total market saturation: as a particularly dominant form of the general obsession with all things undead, from the Twilight-and-Hot-Topic-ing of tweens to the phrase "zombie apocalypse" entering the broad conversational sphere, it stands as the supreme image of managed viral "underground" culture. The shambling crowd of unmentionables like so many tap-dancing LOL cats.

As such, and hopefully without the petty feeling of betrayal because "I was a fan from the beginning and now they've sold out," I'll try and draw out both the peculiar ideological formation underpinning this mass image, and the aspects of the zombie, as a recurrent image extending back toward the apex and subsequent collapse of Fordism, that resist this contemporary formation. Or, at the least, that remains capable of stripping the veil from the supreme nastiness, bad faith, and willful misconception of the world order on which undead-centered culture hinges without admitting it.

And, on a related note, I'll be heading down to LA to give a talk (and DJing a set of "related" post-apocalyptic music) on these very issues. Come join, or if you know anyone who lives in LA and would like to watch me try to explain the connections between the quivering wings of dead pinned butterflies and the fear of never being able to clock out from work, spread the word.

Knocked down without the option (The Bed Sitting Room notes, part 4)

[part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here]

The long trek

This possibility of becoming an object or animal and thereby escaping the shittiness of being human in this post-apocalyptic world, becomes desirable in response to two conditions.

The still-birth room

First, the end of the sexual reproduction, the No Future birth crisis resulting from both radioactive sterility/mutation and, more importantly, the refusal of the prospective mother, Penelope, to bring her baby into this "wicked world." She carries "little Rupert" around in her for 17th months rather than birth him to this life, and he is born still-born - or murdered - at the hands of the National Health Service. This issue of post-apocalyptic birth crisis is a huge one, both here (of the three women we see alive, two are post-menopausal, and the third isn't sure she wants to even be a mother) and throughout the scattered examples of the genre. For the moment, we defer the issue: it is better addressed elsewhere, in a different context (zombies and overproduction, posts on this to follow in the near), and it is arguably the least interesting aspect of The Bed Sitting Room's apocalyptic imaginings, functioning as the sort of non-option magically restored at the end.

The second condition, the one around which this investigation has been circling, is the constancy of movement and the inability to resettle. These are neither the hardy survivors clinging tooth and nail to a last outpost, nor hardscrabble settlers starting anew in a Mad Max outback. Scattered across the space of ex-London with as much care as the rest of the refuse and broken things, those who were situated leave those spaces (the traincar, the bunker) to join the rest of the permanently itinerant. It is only when Lord Fortnam becomes a bed sitting room that this changes.

The bed sitting room to be drags himself toward Paddington

It is not incidental that this transformation gives the film its title, for the bed sitting room itself is the center of its arc, the site of hope, and the casualty of ruling order's destruction of that hope. If salvagepunk represents an attempt to think lost social relations via relations to discarded objects, in this version, we witness this process in reverse, in a very particular way: the social parasite - the aristocratic Lord Fortnam who slept blissfully through the Bomb - becomes a site of ultimate use-value, shelter from the nuclear storm. In becoming object, he becomes the direct inversion of his social role (the one who stands above the poor and their need for temporary housing) in the material form of a site for collective social relations, for (in a bad and literal pun) post-nuclear families to take shape.

Not that he is happy about this in the least. We meet him far before his long march, when he visits the doctor to complain that he is worried of what he suspects is his imminent transformation.

"Get your hands out of my drawers!"

(In this he differs very much from the mother, who seems relieved to become a cabinet, insofar as it lets her rest for a minute, as well as becoming a sexually desirable "thing" again: the great "get your hands out of my drawers, I'm a mother" joke as well as the later sounds of pleasure as the long-suffering doctor steps inside of her.)

Lord Fortnam, on the other hand, is rather frightened and quite pissed-off by the prospect, as in the following exchange with the doctor on what he can "take" for his condition of becoming a place of lodging.

"What can I take for it?"
"Three guineas."
"Three guineas."
"Three guineas… for your rent."
"Rent! I… I don’t want rent! I want to be cured!"

Even after his transformation, he remains a bristly curmudgeon, reluctant to accept not only the fact that he is a lodging for the poor but that he stands in what would have been the Paddington borough ("That’s pretty bad news, I’m afraid. Paddington."), a zone not up to the aristocratic standards of the ex-lord. In response, he demands: "Put a card in the window. No coloreds. No children. And definitely no colored children."

Red sky at morning

But in spite of these protestations, these lingering poisons of the old social hierarchy, the bed sitting room is a constitutive break in the logic of this self-repeating, self-consuming world of the nearly dead. While the characters speculate that Lord Fortnam's disappearance might be the result of the "first act of post-war murder", what we see instead is the first act of settling. Echoing the Mao and PM treaty to fix the rent of the apartment, this is co-habitation beyond money, a dismantling of the structures of rentier capital that freeze wealth into a site for the constant bleeding of wages from the already destitute. The doctor's response to finding the lord as bed sitting room - "I’d recognize you anywhere, my lord. I must say it suits you” - is at once a jab at the idiotic pride of the lord and the mark of a genuine move forward: what suits the lord now is the total unmaking of what that would have meant, not via an act of purgative destruction but by an act of construction. Nuclear or magical it may be, but it is nevertheless an immobile outpost for life above ground, a solid point of resistance in the wind-swept open expanse, opposed to the pocket underworlds of bunkers and subways we've seen so far.

In other words, a new topology in its barest, shoddiest incarnation, a fixed node that can't "keep moving" and around which a community could crystallize. Or, at the very least, around which something like a community could even start to be thought again. The New, here, is far from utopian, or at least in its form of positing an other world. It is simply taking the world - and "taking the room" - as it is, settling for and settling down.

However, while this approximates a crucial sense of the salvagepunk aesthetic (taking the dead world as it is), it also cuts back against it, in a willful betrayal of this possibility that comes to fruition in the deep dystopian core of the "happy ending" that is anything but. For what we see here in the bed sitting room itself is a tendency caught between, on one hand, the idea of making do with what cannot be undone, colonizing better, and settling down, and, on the other, the fantasy of creation out of nothing, out of starting totally anew, a birth of life and light, the transformation of the species, the new in all its messianic eschatology of the world (and its occupants) becoming unlike itself.

The bomb, redux

The deep intelligence of the film lies in recognizing not just the hard work of salvage but the extreme difficulty of holding out one's right to the ruins of the old world against a political order quick to snatch up any advances, any new models, any new knowledge produced from below. It requires not just the innovations of those barely scraping by but the destruction of those innovations, their energy and kernels of new thought blasted apart and swallowed into the rhetoric and administration of the ruling class. Concretely, in The Bed Sitting Room, you wait for the wandering poor to learn how to settle down before destroying their settlement. And you wait for them remember the Bomb for you before you become the embodiment and inheritor of what the Bomb means.

In this case, it takes the form of following through on the doctor's warning to the lord/bed sitting room: “try not to look conspicuous or you’ll be knocked down without the option”. In a rather hectic sequence, our raving bunker pervert is talking about the salvational properties of "the rubber" before concluding, “that’s why He dropped the bomb!”. Immediately following the vocalization of "the bomb", those two unspeakable syllables, a flurry of shots, in which each character, tenuously or with a rising joy, repeats: the bomb?

At this very moment, the wrecking ball of the police bulldozer smashes through the wall of the bedsitting room. Panic ensues, as the Bomb (the memory of the total, anonymous destruction of the nation) becomes the willful Bomb (the fact of the conscious destruction of what was built without the sanction of those who claim to rule). And then this exchange, starting with the booming voice of Lord Fortnam, cutting through the melée.

LORD FORTNAM: "Stop. Stop. Stop in the name of the Lord."
POSTMAN: “It’s God. He’s come back on us. Good, good old mate. For he’s a jolly good fellow. He’s a socialist, you know.”
LORD FORTNAM: "Quiet, labor scum.”
POSTMAN: "Ah! He’s… he’s a bleeding conservative!”
DOCTOR: "Now hold on a minute, you don't sound like God, you sound like Lord Fortnam!"
LORD FORTNAM: “I also, I uh, I also do impressions”

This is followed by various pleas for God to save them from "the dreadful radiation", to give back her dead child, and to be saved generally, with the promise of giving up atheism. After further confusion, the "real" voice of God steps in: the floating police inspector, to whose first words the doctor responds, “That’s God. I recognize the voice.” (Of interest here, among other things, is that if anyone is to step in to the role of the new God, it will not be the icon of the old social order. It can only be the voice of the post-apocalyptic sadists we have heard from the start, waiting for the rest to remember so he, and the emergent biopolitical regime, can claim to be what everyone was waiting for all along.)

The face of things to come

The speech he gives - arguably the high point of the film's already razor-edged writing - needs to be included here in full. The full brunt and cut of British late 60's satire - from Monty Python's Flying Circus to Steptoe and Son - deploys here, pitch perfect in both its nastiness and tone of the sort of things we hear all too often.

I expect you may be wondering why I’ve invited you all here this afternoon. I’ve just come from an audience with Her Majesty, Mrs Ethel Shroake, and I’m empowered by her to tell you that, in the future, clouds of poisonous nuclear fog will no longer be necessary. Mutations will cease
sine die and, furthermore, I’m the bringer of glad tidings. A team of surgeons at the Woolwich hospital have just accomplished the world’s first successful complete body transplant. The donor was the entire population of South Wales, and the new body is functioning normally. I, myself, saw it sit up in bed, wink, and ask for a glass of beer.

All in all, I think we’re in for a time of peace, prosperity and stability, when the earth will burgeon forth anew, the lion will lie down with the lamb, and the goat will give suck to the tiny bee.

At times of great national emergency, you’ll often find that a new leader tends to emerge. Here I am - so watch it.

Keep moving, everybody, that’s the spirit! Keep moving!

There is more here than can be digested without somehow capturing just how it feels to hear these words at the end of watching the film, triumph, disgust, bile, and laughter. We can, nevertheless, draw out a couple points to situate this within, and largely against, the salvagepunk strain of post-apocalyptic thought. This speech itself is an apocalypse, the third of the film (the first and second being the nuclear war and the Bomb, respectively), for it is the revelation of the hidden, the laying bare of the not-so-covert violence of coercion with a more vicious sense of what had been out of view, namely, that this was managed from the start. The post-apocalyptic crisis as the willful creation of a condition to wear down the resistance of the last remnants of the old and the excuse to smash up the first remnants of a different new order, the gaping hole of the bed sitting room. The management of the "necessary," the declaration of a "national emergency", even when there is nothing of the nation left beyond that very emergency: is there no better vision of this state of exception, of claiming extrajuridical power, than this form of defending the nation against the already existent fact of the nation's total destruction?

On top of that, biopolitics removes its facade and show itself, the full horror of calculating the value of lives. Echoing Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, here we find an entire population recombined into a single body, a fact calculated both to represent the moving forward of the world from here (if not birth, then Frankensteinean undead life out of the assemblage of corpses) and to make clear what kind of world it's going to be: if too conspicuous, you'll be knocked down, if not conspicuous enough to matter in the global order, you'll be hacked up to make one new post-apocalyptic citizen.

New birth, now with no waiting period

On top of that, the hyperfecundity of the new order, the hybrid laying with each other forming the backdrop for the sudden birth of a new child for Penelope and Alan. Foreshadowing where we'll go with zombies, this is a world both of the possibilities of overpopulation (the teeming spheres of the babies "out of nothing", in zones that cannot support them) and of the false necessity of total decimation. Whatever threads of salvagepunk that remain at the end of the film - which is the cynical tale of what we lose when we agree to let ourselves be told what the apocalypse means - are a resistance to, and deep suspicion, of this world. Salvagepunk is a kicking back against these visions of the rational management of life and death, of the industrial subcurrents hidden behind state care and humanitarian interventions. It is a different cartography of the already dead not even buried, surfaces we forget only if we stay below ground.

Walking off to walking off to the sunset

Cruellest of all: Keep moving, everybody, that’s the spirit! Keep moving! Where walking off toward the sunset means walking away from the only real hope for life. This is repetition compulsion not of the pathological individual but of History itself, the obscene brutality of doing it over and over: “Great Britain is a first-class nuclear power again.” And so, like the Mad Max trilogy and like so much of salvagepunk, the deep, wracking sadness of knowing what will be forgotten and who will die, a feedback loop of rotting waste piling high toward the sky, too often overwhelms the adversarial role of salvage we have been advocating, the productive, innate-venom-releasing work of organizing minds, bodies, and needs better through sharper relations to the past.

It is a problem, ultimately, of what mode of "the negative" we use. Salvagepunk is fundamentally a negative - thought here not in the affective sense but in its relationship to what is given - operation, even at its moment of construction, because it deals with non-wholes. The goal is never the restoration of a positive entity, but rather an assemblage of negatives: cast out by the system or, in the longer task of montage, cut out to be put together otherwise. To celebrate the given and inherited by doing necessary violence to it. It is always haunted, to be sure, by a bad negativity of grey sadness, just staring blankly at the piles refuse yet never refusing.

Yet that is a risk to be run, given that the affirmation of the positive is decisively the side of the enemy, the often asubjective structures giving shape to regimes and their historical moment. The positive, as we see it in The Bed Sitting Room and in the ruling ideologies of late capitalism, is at once a rejection of the New in favor of preserving (and restoring) an old social order that has seemingly been lost in the rubble , and a defense of the New (as the ongoing process of making new whole beings out of nothing) as the thing to be restored. In other words, the New as restoration itself (what is new is "new leader" emerging, the police inspector's face as the guarantor of going back to how things used to be), and the restoration of the New (the orders of domination are restored by a biopolitical and messianic language and practice of newness, from the earth burgeoning forth anew and babies created out of the air, to the era of new peace and new nuclear power status). "Progress" means making one whole positive body out of the severed corpses of an entire population, burying the work of negation under the fantasy of the "transplant", of the metamorphosis of the undifferentiated into a single positive entity. The body politic made singular and manageable.

Salvage turned against itself: the ruling order learns its aesthetic lessons

Even the sublime gag of Mrs. Ethel Shroake, the closest relative to the queen, awkwardly astride a horse beneath an arc de triomphe of debilitated washing machines cannot fully mitigate this sense of defeat. Our graveside smile is one thing, the prospect of halting the ceaseless graveyard march another. Salvagepunk knows damn well that the issue is not to stop repeating and to fall into the logic of the enemy, the logic of the New restoration. The question is, has been, and will be how to repeat differently, how to make from the broken same the livelier constructs of something other.

We do it again. And again. And again. (Or, how the porn industry describes a national strike)

Larry Flynt calls for a national strike in a surprisingly eloquent and bilious editorial, ranging from populist resentment toward "economic royalists", historically situated attacks on financial regulation, and lucid rejection of Obama-support. Who thought that the Hustler kingpin would be a voice in our corner, demanding we bring back the clarity of politics being about the struggle between the ruling class and the rest of us? Let alone calling for putting the "refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants" option back on the table.

"Let's set a date. No one goes to work. No one buys anything. And if that isn't effective -- if the politicians ignore us -- we do it again. And again. And again."

If the fact that he has moved from calling, somewhat jokingly, for a porn industry bailout to pushing this serious proposal is not an auspicious sign of more radical forms of solidarity to come in our time, I don't know what is. First time farce, second time anger and resolve.

Oh, Doris!

This isn't really part of The Bed Sitting Room series, as it isn't part of the relevant argument. But these images are too good not to share. Five images of pleasure after the Bomb.

Harry Secombe and his flawless orgasm face. The occasion for this is a women who has agreed to "do what his wife used to do for him." Namely, accuse him of infidelity and throw plates at him.

Proto-Thunderdome dressed-up and no one to fight.

Spike Milligan (here doing a good impression of Beckett's Malloy) gets stuck in the pond.
The joys of expected failure and useless attempts.

Bicycle-powered nipple massage at the overloaded, sparking power station.
The purest image of frivolous pleasure I've ever seen.

Keep moving! (The Bed Sitting Room notes, 3)

[part 1 here, part 2 here]

What's worse than losing your parents in the nuclear apocalypse? Your parents surviving and embarrassing you in front of your fallout boyfriend

If this horizon of collectivity persists through the film as a possibility, the real question to ask is: how do people treat one another? The answer falls somewhere between extraordinarily badly, insofar as those people in question are the remaining vestiges of pre-Bomb authority, and with surprising tenderness and care, insofar as those people are everyone else, even if that care takes the form of taking the piss. It's a film whose population might be divided into three as follows:

1. Those who purport to care for your interests are sadistic twits (and we don't mean sadism as a moral judgment but rather as a certain pathological structure of enjoyment, although twit remains a moral judgment) whose fidelity to the old structures of power take on new, insidious forms.

2. Those who want something from you are relatively harmless but imbecilic, the guardians of the post-apocalyptic status quo of non-progress.

3. Those who don't have much reason to care whatsoever turn out to be your comrades in making something of the world.

(The notable, and only, exceptions here are the mother, her daughter Penelope, and Penelope's boyfriend Alan, all of whom stand as last vestiges of fidelity to loved ones, and, in this way, often come off a bit sappy, albeit sympathetic.)

To the sadists, then...

Keep moving.

As hinted, the apocalyptic sadist - to be clearly distinguished from the utopian perverts of the trash-heap - is the one whose sadism is not the reason for, but rather a symptomatic consequence of, a kind of vicious new behavior that masquerades as the responsible protection of the few remaining shards of the world before the apocalypse. They are here the guardians of bureaucracy and administration, not the aristocratic Lord Fortnam in his eccentric dottering and disconnection from the production of value, but the arch representative of the middle class (the subway family patriarch) and the apparatuses of the state management of life (the police and the National Health Service). While they incessantly invoke family values, convention, keeping up appearances, and maintaining the systematic ordering of society, their speech is merely a blind for the cruelty of their actions as they try to bring forth from the ashes of civilization a new, nastier, more efficient world. They are those for whom the apocalypse was a happy accident.

The father (just Father, through the film) most embodies this sense of capitalizing on the Bomb to shore up his authority, allowing him even the primal fantasy of hunting for his tribe, even if what he hunts are candy bars left in the subway loop's vending machines.

Post-apocalyptic man the hunter...

... bringing the kill back to the fairer sex

If anything, the tough repetitive work of keeping up appearances shoots holes in his fantasies, although he guards it as an option for whenever he needs to assert his position as anchor to the lost past. Rather, when he returns from the "hunt" (above), and his wife responds, "ah, you're home early tonight, father," one gets the sense that what he really wants is to be treated like the brute caveman he'd like to be. In lieu of that, at least he can take satisfaction in knowing that he has secured his position as the only one who brings home the bacon, or chocolate, no matter what the sexual revolution and the broad social shifts of the 60's may have said.

Eventually, the limited resource economy of an abandoned subway loop - both chocolate and suitors for Penelope of whom Father would approve - runs out, and the family, boyfriend Alan in tow, enter the world above, dumped unceremoniously into the light by an escalator to nowhere.

The world they enter is a world of ceaseless movement, of never being able to stop and rest. The electricity to power the train (and the "nation" as a whole) is just one man on a stationary bicycle, who, fittingly, pedals constantly and goes nowhere. In the first minutes of the film, he is seen slumped over his bars and is woken, with the encouragement to "liven him up with your truncheon, Constable" from the film's arch-sadists: the inspector (Peter Cook) and his sergeant (Dudley Moore, who will end the film as a sheepdog), who circle the wasteland in a rusted out car held aloft by a hot air balloon and tugged about by the constable, a sort of scrap-metal panopticon.

"Remember, man, you're electricity for the whole nation!"

Later, in a much more direct show of coercion, Britain's pedaling power source is brushing his teeth, only to be faced with the one remaining instrument of state violence, the bulldozer with its wrecking ball (a crucial image we return to).

Unsurprisingly, he "finds" the energy to pedal madly and smile to the circling Inspector.

But while the coercive injunctions to the cyclist have at least a degree of utility (his movement produces energy to power the train, although the need for the train to keep moving is deeply questionable), the general and incessant command to those below lacks this entirely. To take one such example of this urging from above (which primarily takes the form of the bullhorn distorted, "Keep moving... Keep moving!"):

"We don’t want to stay in one place long enough for the enemy to have another chance at us, do we, sir? Not until our preemptive strike is launched, do we, sir? Do we, sir?"

Behind the jokey complete absurdity of this (given the fact that clearly no member of this ragged and hungry bunch is in any condition to launch a strike, pre-emptive or not) lies a more serious sense of the fallout of the Bomb. For what the film makes clear is how unclear everyone is about who the enemy is and, moreover, to what degree the enemies were equally reduced to a group of chocolate scavengers, aimless roamers, and, eventually, animals and inanimate objects. In other words, post-apocalyptic here does not mean that we have witnessed the destruction of our society or nation. It means that we don't know who our enemies are anymore. The very category of enemy is rendered diffuse, just the bad smell of fear sticking around and stinking up the place.

The crisis this provokes, consequently, is one of not knowing who we are anymore. Following the thinking of German political and juridical theorist Carl Schmitt, we might draw out the basic point that it is only the conception of the enemy - of what constitutes not just an existential threat to us but a political-cultural threat to the primacy of "our way of life" - that produces a conception of the "friend," (in this case, Britons and their allies). The concept of the political is this very opposition, for Schmitt: it is the structuring principle on which the whole architecture of citizenship and national allegiance turns. In other words, this messy collection of different class positions, occupations, histories, and all the rest only become a nation/politically bounded entity when they hate in unison. All together now...

Two things come of this, about what the "post-apocalyptic" does and could mean, in this film and beyond.

First, if apocalyptic Event is the revelation of the hidden, the post-apocalyptic stance and position is that of managing that new old knowledge: what's been there all along, what we should have known. In the Christian eschatological vision (and one picked up in variously in the rhetoric of the militant partisan and the black metal desire to declare enemies), the apocalypse is the making clear that makes possible knowing who the real enemies are. No more masked devils or cunning unbelievers, no more faceless violence of the system. Rather, the good versus the bad and the ugly.

But The Bed Sitting Room and the salvagepunk aesthetic more generally grasps that: we've been living after the apocalypse for a while now, and that the problem is too much of the hidden has been revealed. Too much uncovered data, too many telling images, too many public secrets. It's piling up everywhere and making it impossible to find the correct enemies, the right cracks to widen, the right ways to attack and build better. In this sense, salvagepunk post-apocalypticism is concerned with being more apocalyptic than the apocalypse: clearing away the clutter to reveal the true hidden-in-plain-view, namely, the deep, permanent antagonisms on which capitalism runs and the untenability of that system continuing to run.

Second, the "end of enemies" is more than the dissolution of what "we" are. It is the end of politics itself, not here defined (as in the Schmitt case) as the friend/enemy opposition itself but closer to what Alain Badiou has offered: "collective action, organized by certain principles, that aims to unfold the consequences of a new possibility which is currently repressed by the dominant order." As such, it is the end of the kind of "we" we could become. Without the real sense of the enemy (both the abstraction of the dominant order itself and the human agents of its perpetuation), we cannot unfold, into the ruins of history, thoughts of consequence.

However, this "end of politics", in which The Bed Sitting Room may be situated, does not mean that the old structures of power go away, resulting in disorder and non-antagonistically defined possibilities. To the contrary: it is this end of politics that allows for the monstrous work of holding onto power in its previously defined positions while changing its shape and directions. More concretely, using the inertia of social structures as a cover-story while you go about constructing domination all the nastier for their claims to be the rational administration of care and resources.

And there certainly is plenty of social structure inertia here, a tenacious holding onto old roles, at least in their trappings. You may get to "tell off your betters" now, without the social fabric there to condemn it, but the positions don't really change.

"Piss off."

All that is known is what we were, or so we tell ourselves. Meanwhile we all just get a bit shabbier and a lot better at surviving and innovating.

The very set of stock roles we have in the film produce this effect, a sort of portrait of British society that we know very well to be primarily a portrait of the cultural depiction and creation of that Britishness. As such, we have mailman, doctor, broadcaster, lord, policemen, patriarch, health service bureaucrat, industrial labor, new royalty, the solid and stoic mother, and the young hip generation. (Plus a wandering Chinese Red Army solider.) We have the promise, although frozen, of the the reproduction of the population. We have both the labor of running - and running around - the country and the diversions that make it enjoyable, including, casual sex, dancing on broken plates, domestic fetish scenarios, throwing rocks, and, mostly, a constant stream of puns.

It is worth here drawing out the historical particularity of the film, which was shot in 1968, held back from release by its backers who were deeply unimpressed with it, and released in early 1970. The end of the British 60's lacked that sense of imminent change, of real social unrest and the possibility of systemic collapse, that marked France in '68 and Italy in '69, or the height of the American civil rights movement and the increased visibility of mass "counterculture" in the same period. Britain's '68-'69 came in '73-'74, one might say, the years of mass strikes, bloody IRA violence, economic turmoil, and the return of Harold Wilson and the Labour government.

Compared to that other great film of wreckage and the collapse of a Fordist model of capitalism, Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend (1967), which is shot through with the slow-motion bloody violence of the apocalyptic crash itself, The Bed Sitting Room remains a quieter film, brutal in its own ways. This is ultimately a consequence of the fact that it is a post-apocalyptic, rather than an apocalyptic, film. But not simply because the apocalyptic content of violence and destruction has already happened, and we're in the aftermath. Rather, because The Bed Sitting Room, against the grain of its salvagepunk aesthetic, depicts the formation of a new mode of governance and life, namely, the neoliberalism born out of the crises of the early '70s. More simply, the film isn't about the end of the 60's. It's more about the start of the long neoliberal nightmare from which we are just beginning to wake. (Hence the deep resonance of the film for our times, in which we again witness that regime of accumulation in an unstable, uncertain state, then finding its footing, now clamoring to hold onto what it held.)

In the film's extended moment of uncertainty, what is preserved are those hollow shells of governance and administration that no longer exist. One goes on working in one's capacity, even after the old form of compulsion is gone. In other words, you go on acting like a policeman even when there is no more police. And you make damn sure that everyone is doing his or her part to maintain that fragile edifice of the past.

The real horror that emerges, out of the sadistic fun of getting to be the kind of yelling, floating cop you've always wanted to be, is the emergence of "biopolitical" administration. Or more precisely, a death-centered ordering of life under the rationalized veil of keeping everything in line.

Marty Feldman, the death-dealer nurse

This broad concept of "biopolitics," which has numerous iterations not worth going into here, can be broadly thought as the kind of governance that isn't concerned with a society of individuals, but with a population of bodies. Politics becomes about the management of that population, working on it through all the channels of health services, disease prevention, welfare, housing, spatial distribution, and so on. Politics become the attempt to dictate the terms of mortality, with a particular emphasis on the "death" end of the life cycle.

In The Bed Sitting Room, this becomes even more necropolitical in its orientation, given that the deeply unsettling, nightmare-haunting, pure-sadist manifestation of the National Health Service (Marty Feldman in all his cockeyed creepy glory) spends his time passing out death certificates to those still living and delivering, or perhaps aborting, dead babies in his creepy inflatable operating room. The occasion of the death certificate, handed not to the living "dead" (the mother of the family) but to her husband, produces the chilling core of the film, of death in the record books (that no one is keeping) as the harbinger and guarantee of real death to come:

What I have here, sir, is your wife’s death certificate.

This phantom reach of bureaucracy and administered death into the realm of the living works as a perfect example of the brutal logic of the real abstraction, the basic thought-unit of capitalism itself. It is both description (that which is already past, the whole nation already dead and the few survivors on their way, an echo of her recollection that before the Bomb, she wished it would come and kill the whole world) and prescription (the certificate, like a speech act, makes it so, condemns her to her descent into the underworld, literalized here in her entering the subterranean bunker). Real conditions on the ground must be forced to comply with the records of the world: the ultimate sleight of hand of declaring how things are as a way to bring about that state of affairs. (Think here of oil futures: speculating on the future value of oil, a calculated guess as to what economic conditions and factors will be like, itself changes the conditions described and pushes the price toward the estimate. Or, if you prefer, like the third pre-cog in Phillip K. Dick's Minority Report, whose prediction of the future is based on the effects of previous predictions being known, thereby affecting the future actions described.)

The kids dance, the mom accepts her fate

Most unsettling is the lack of resistance to this declaration that clearly has no force behind it. There is no government, only the historical residue of names and procedures from the past administrations. Her own resignation to it ("I thought I was alive, but here it is in black and white…") is the consequence of the younger generation mutely accepting the fact, cowed in the face of Father urging her to accept the fact of her death. In the most vicious recourse to a false sense of what being British means in terms of respecting order, he urges this so as to complete their scrapbook of official records, from birth certificates to the marriage license. As Feldman's NHS man puts it, "it’s your wife being alive that seems to be all the trouble," and we get the impression that the husband might well agree with this.

This is indeed a deathworld in which being alive is all the trouble and perhaps not worth the trouble. For all the jokes and joy taken in playing around in the junkheaps, weariness and fatigue hang heavy on every scene and in the faces of the newly nomadic, threatened that if they stop moving, those prescriptive death certificates may be made murderous fact. Just the slow entropy and sadness of the remnants of the species, unable to reproduce and prevented, by your own complicity with the last gasps of police order, from settling down to form a community.

Mother, mid-way to becoming a cabinet, exploring her drawers while crying

That is, of course, until a new option appears on the scene. And one does appear here, just in the nick of time: not finding a space to settle and start over, but becoming that space yourself. (In the mother's case, not finding a hiding place but becoming one yourself.) Not occupying temporary buildings, but becoming, radiation-cursed, a real building for temporary occupation. The resistance to biopolitical horror and forced transiency may lie in the transformation into something that escapes the realm of the administration of human bodies and that cannot keep moving, a sticking point of inertia on the strewn plains. At least until the bulldozers come.

Pleasure, the nasty bits, and the Bomb (The Bed Sitting Room notes, part 2)

[part 1 here]

"I'm the BBC..."

However, the brutal black comedic edge of the film lies in the character's obstinate non-recognition of this need to do something different, even as they unwittingly forge new relations by play-acting, messing up, and overdoing the old ones. (Inhabiting a world in which one might mutate into God knows what helps encourage this atmosphere of keeping a straight face while all that was solid melts into fields of broken crockery.) Theatricality and British stoicism rule the day, but only in name. For despite all these gestures toward the mortified freezing of the stiff upper-lip, the film is so gleefully messy that what rises to the surface is the real creativity of the survivors, scrappy and shabby bastards all. Including, of course, those who adapt to become shaggy dogs and roasted parrots, used dressers and cheap rent bed-sitting rooms.

In this way, even the great degree of normalcy becomes merely a junkyard to be raided, primarily for pleasure. A distinctly perverse pleasure that, by getting to be a kinky Lady Chatterley's Lover-quoting priest or interrupting your monologue to the dead Queen by dropping your pants and taking a phone call from a lover, doesn't come from poking fun at "boring" social norms but by misplacing them. Continuing to act like we always have in a setting drastically changed can work to excavate the pleasures of acting the part and deviating barely from what it was supposed to look like.

One of the first characters we meet, the last remaining BBC broadcaster (Frank Thornton), does just this sort of work. Because the BBC ceased to exist when the bomb fell and hence ceased to produce new news, our half-tuxedoed anchor can only repeat, endlessly and in person through the frame of an empty TV set, the "last news" reported before the full nuclear holocaust set in.

"Now all walk backwards into long-shot", the angel of history blowing herself backwards

In his pitch-perfect newsman baritone, even stopping for the "viewer" to smack the empty TV box to fake-fix the signal:

“Good evening, and I mean that most sincerely. I am the BBC, as you can see. And here was the last news."

The last news, as it turns out, was a summary of the "nuclear misunderstanding that led to the Third World War", a summary occasioned by it being the "third, or is it the fourth" anniversary of the "misunderstanding." (Combined with the general amnesia of the survivors when they attempt to recall just what happened, this furthers the sense of not knowing how long it's been.) And then, the "last recorded statement of the prime minister", in which he boasts of this being the shortest war in recorded history (2 minutes, 28 seconds, including the signing of the peace treaty) and of the speed with which Britain's 40 million dead were buried. Later in the broadcast, as the the PM and Mao Tse-Tung enter negotiations to draw up a lease the rent (in "yen-dollars") of an apartment ("this lease means peace in our time"), the real Bomb falls, the one that reduces Britain to the 20 or so survivors.

Mao and the PM turn to the real issue

The rose clouds of holocaust

Striking, here, is the sense of an already post-apocalyptic world driven back into apocalypse: the work of peace and burying has already begun, the new order of the earth in its early solidification (new currency combinations, a turn from war to battling out conditions of everyday life), and then the Bomb, in all its anonymous fury, unable to be tracked back like the British bomb returned to sender for insufficient postage (more "chinese dollars" required) later in the film.

Unwelcome returns

This in-folded apocalyptic structure (one version of the "combined/multiple apocalypses" concept that defines our project) gives the film - and the way of thinking apocalyptically we might draw from it - its peculiar texture, of double trauma, constant work with no end in sight, and incapacity to remember historically. The characters all consummately remember the affective textures of life beforehand: for those form the source material for both the goofing-off and the weary awareness of having done this all so many times before.

And as mentioned before, this "problem of history" is one made explicit in the film, nowhere more so than in the "recorded" Prime Minister's speech, which ends with the question have we forgotten the Bomb? and which answers itself in the real return of the repressed Bomb. His rhetoric, which forms the official discourse in the film about what's wrong with what's going on, establishes the idea that we need to remember the Bomb better in order to really bury the dead, insofar as the worry is less the stink of corpses and more the psychic and political burden that will prevent the refashioning of global economic flows. (A forward echo first to Britain entering the European Economic Committee in 1973 and then the deregulation and financialization of the Thatcher years...)

Initially, this seems dead-on, a capitalist inversion of Marx's call to cast off the dead weight of the past to write the poetry of the future here. But is this perhaps the central blindspot of the film, the pseudo-truth that it drags through the filth and mocks, ultimately pointing out that where it leads, like Mad Max later and so many other post-apocalyptic films, in new regimes that will drive us straight back to hell, albeit in more cunning sheep's clothing? Remembering better may restart the wheels of history, but the question remains which wheels and which trajectory.

Because what The Bed Sitting Room really wants to do, what it is about, and what it ultimately shows the near-impossibility of pulling off, is the full emergence of a salvage mode of life, not one of starvation and poverty and apocalyptic survival of the fittest bellicosity. Rather, one of new networks built on the gutted paths of the older, in which forms of care, utility, invention, and mutual aid overwhelm the strictures of class and power by treating them as the obscene jokes they've been from the start.

For example, the PM states in his speech:

"We know this great country of ours often sticks in the mud of the past and searches out and holds up to the light the mistakes of past times."

In a film at least in part about frivolity in a time and place literally mired in the mud and filth of the past, these words indeed get us halfway there to productive salvage thinking. But against this dourness and this urge to hold up the mistakes so as to throw them back into the filth and start anew, the lumpen wanderers, hoarders, scammers, and comedians of the film provide an alternative both more pleasurable - for which should the post-apocalyptic world be the dreadful oscillation between boredom and terror - and more radical in its capacity to dwell in and reshape the rubbish of their time. And what this looks like, at least initially, is keeping the reels of the past and, etched onto Harry Secombe's remarkable near-orgasm face, taking some serious the horror, oh the horror pleasure, like a sweaty teen fingering old and faded 8 mm smut prints.

"Oh no, oh no...

"... oh yes, oh yes!"

Clearly, the salvagepunk stance we are advocating does not hit its terminal point in the fallout bunker masturbation of the man who refuses to come out, dwelling with his nasty bits of history. But where it does come closer is in his later role in the film, when an unexpected visitor comes by and when he leaves the bunker, no longer waiting out the dark days, but entering them, with the particularly aim of sharing what he knows. Unspooled reels in hand, he wanders, looking for someone to look at what he loves, coming closer to the notion that what will really break the post-apocalyptic spell of not being able to do better isn't remembering the Bomb more clearly (for the constant memory of it is what allows the sadistic police to keep everyone on the move) but patching together pleasure and knowledge from what the atomized post-atomic stragglers have.

For what we really want, like our furtive bunker man, is a collective pleasure to be taken in collective work on this. If we stand in a wasteland, the best hope would be to enjoy each other's company, to trade expertise, and to forge collective modes of being together out of the best failed efforts of the past. To repurpose an older formulation, post-apocalyptic survivors have hitherto only remembered the world; the point is to salvage it.

Keeping busy after the end of the world (The Bed Sitting Room notes, part 1)

[In order to make reading this very extended take on The Bed Sitting Room a more plausible and pleasurable endeavor, I'm breaking it up into a few pieces. Here's the first.]

“Oh, we’ll just have to keep going?”
“What for?”

“Because we’re British.”

“British! What a lot of use that is.”

- The Bed Sitting Room

The trajectory from relations of waste objects with their venomous use-values to radical social relations lost to our historical moment involves, in the case of our project, a particular privileging of the "cultural" object. This is not primarily an account of the real material practices of sifting through the trash of the era, nor of the people who have been forced into such labor. Our treatment of them is metaphorical, or, more precisely, refracted through the films, books, and general discourse in which those practices and peoples make their figurative appearance. On top of that, these cultural examples are overwhelmingly from the part of the world (the "developed" nations and capitalist powers) who bear far less of the burden of cleaning up their mess. These are not the ideological and political representations of material salvage-work and its consequences.

Rather, they are documents of how the dominant architecture of the late capitalist system thinks itself, however symptomatically and against its better judgment. And more, they are documents of relations: to the world at large, to the labor that produces such a world, to its discarded artifacts, and its discarded possibilities of other modes of life. Only in taking these relations as a whole, with an eye toward the last, does the work of analytical digging and searching for necessary antecedents result in a longer history of a constant apocalypse (here in its salvagepunk version) and its not very silver linings.

And so...

After the bomb, the gags.

If there stands, tottering and joyful, a single cultural object of salvage-thought at its best, it is Richard Lester's 1969 film The Bed Sitting Room. Not salvage as the undercurrent, and inconstant mechanism of capitalist recuperation (squeezing value out of every last scrap). And perhaps not salvagepunk per se, coming before the long downturn of overproduction and manufacturing profits, the new world anxieties of cyberpunk, and the total prolifigate waste of all that piles up and waits to be reused. Rather, some kind of obscure precursor, funnier and crueler, sloppy and razor-sharp, the underwatched and unmatched template that deserves its due forty years on. Therein lies its weird temporality: in this refuse (just another largely forgotten film), we find what will come to be but hasn't yet. Fittingly for this available but non-accessed and somewhat dusty history, it casts a different light, a different end of the 60's, a shaky birth of the long 70's, and the hastening toward the long slow fallout of late capitalist apocalypse.

And so this is both a drawing forth of some aspects of what salvagepunk might be from the film that does it best and, more simply, an appreciation for something not watched nearly enough and to which I was turned on very recently. As such, what follows is a lot of summary, and an initial gesture, one I hope to be followed by others, toward situating this amazing thing dropped from the tail of the 60's into our lap. It is very dark, it is very uncomfortable, it is very funny, and it is very, very British.

As one critic put it, it is "like Samuel Beckett, but with better jokes," which is pretty spot on. Nominally based on the Spike Milligan and John Antrobus play in 1963, Lester's cinematic version is a staggering vision of waste and remnant, of frozen, necrotic social relations, and of what we keep doing to keep ourselves busy after the end of the world.

A very Andrei Tarkovsky stump

What we do, at least at first, is that very familiar (and none the less softly startling for the fact) gazing onto the stillness of a world abandoned. The film starts, backed by the soft opening horns of its score, with images of nature in fuzzy flux: staring into the sun, the movement of lava. This gentleness all adds up to the quiet of a world reclaimed by nature, a new pastoralism without shepards.

However, the reels of unspooled history (not my metaphor: a literal image recurrent throughout) start to pile up onto this unspoiled tableau of quiet real things.

With this glimpse of the bomb-hollowed dome of a partially submerged St. Paul's Cathedral (thereby marking the wasteland as London), the sense of a nuclear fallout emerges immediately. Here, in the return to the center of the British empire, is an unavoidable echo of the Hiroshima Atom Bomb Dome.

This resonance acts as an ominous designator of how the world got to be what it is. Furthermore, it is the early sign of the tensions that produce the distinct look of the film and its spaces. For the lyrical solitude of the single stump in the rippling water and the minimalist elegance of the sunken dome meet their negation in the unfathomable amounts of crap filling this world, oceans of trash, slabs of concrete, rusting infrastructure, all the hallmarks of an apocalyptic event that left its mess to be cleaned up by the survivors.

In short, the unresolved aesthetic of the film - its deep ontological messiness - is staked on the gap between the empty and the overfull, between a depopulated world that cannot be filled and a world that is hard to fathom repopulating without clearing away some of this rubble. There may be only 20 or so survivors, but the ground is never clear. Any starting over again is life in the ruins, and not just in a theoretical sense of the end of history.

Yet this is a film which does not beg such a theoretical reading, it insists on it, shoves it on the surface, transforms it into a gag, and repeats it until it passes from quite funny to quite unsettling. It is shot through, from the get-go, with a surprisingly subtle dialectic of event and process, which here takes the unsteady form of the capital-E Event (the Bomb, the catastrophic rupture that literally cannot be spoken, resulting in odd gesticulations, much hemming and hawing and making bomb sounds with your mouth) and static process (after the Bomb, the interminable durations and banal rhythms of everyday life, keeping up appearances as long as even one witness remains, going on because we cannot not go on). In other words, between what is done (and over with) and what is done (over and over again). The call of what is to be done, Leninist or otherwise, to jumpstart this halted progression is the stillborn question that hangs over the whole film. One shares the unspoken feeling, with the fumbling bravado and convention and tradition hindered agency of the characters, that the problem with the apocalypse was that it wasn't apocalyptic enough: it did not clear away the dead weight of the previous world configuration. It was nearly an anti-apocalypse, in that it seemingly did not reveal the hidden but made hidden what was already visible, what was to be done.

This is, of course, the false angle, for what the film is really about isn't a mourning for the absent New but a real struggle to find the Old worth salvaging. It is a struggle to become post-apocalyptic, a task which requires both remembering the past (speaking the Bomb, preserving old forms of social relation) and forgetting the past (letting it become History, throwing away the inherited relations of domination). You aren't post-apocalyptic because the apocalypse happened, the film stresses. You become post-apocalyptic when you learn to do something better, or at least more morbidly fun, with the apocalyptic remains of the day.