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In a new book called 'The Nerves and their Endings: essays on crisis and response', Jessica Gaitán Johannesson writes, "For those who haven't yet experienced climate collapse in our own bodies, a history not yet written into us, the feeling [of] it arrives in the shape of shadows, an atmospheric wrongness, and harrowing predictions" (Johanesson, 2022: 6). When Johannesson refers to 'those of us who haven't yet experienced climate collapse in our own bodies' she invokes a double meaning. Those who haven't yet experienced climate collapse in a bodily way might refer to the privileged, largely global north 'us' who have yet to experience the world-endings of global heating in an immediate, visceral sense. However, since Jessica opens the book with a vignette from a hospital ward where she was treated for anorexia in her 20s, this phrase may also refer to 'those of us who haven't experienced climate collapse in our own bodies - i.e. an illness like that of an eating disorder' that is fundamentally an illness of control, but also one in which agency (the 'cause') is heavily blurred by the 'slow violence' of gradual but persistent self-harm, diet culture, fashion imagery, 'health magazines', enforced gender binaries, parents and friends too scared or busy to say anything, and the exposures of growing up in capitalism. Johanesson makes the point that by the time one ends up in a hospital ward because every day, for a long time, one has chosen death over life, the advertisers, celebrities, coaches and early childhood events are long gone- you are all that is left, and there may not be much of you left. By the time we cross 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, the 16th century colonisers of Africa and the Americas, the architects of 'development' and 'aid', and the engineers of late liberal capital, are long gone. I do think the analogy has its limits. But I wonder, with Johanesson: might it be that those who have reached the brink of inexistence (by their own means) and come back, who have responded to the harms of contemporary society by so severely harming themselves, and then returned, have something to say about 'climate collapse'? Might they see a bit further than most through 'the shape of shadows' the 'atmospheric wrongness' and the 'harrowing predictions' ? And might the tools of recovery be relevant - tools that require one, every day, long after one might be 'recovered' (as recovery 'never ends'), to consciously 'choose the world'; teachings that one is not 'in control', no matter how much control one may have demonstrated by not eating for days; and the insight that unless the world around us is nourished, we will fail to nourish ourselves.


25 May 2024 13:01:26


Hackney Downs, London

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United Kingdom


Sasha Engelmann



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51.554101, -0.059371