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Pessimism Is The Only Option: New Books by Eugene Thacker and Roy Scranton


In the New York Times, John Williams reviews two new books about how to face our dire times: Infinite Resignation by Eugene Thacker and We’re Doomed. Now What? by Roy Scranton. As Williams notes, Scranton’s book details the drastic measures we would need to take to slow climate change, and argues that it is highly unlikely we will take them. Meanwhile, Thacker updates the pessimist tradition of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche for today’s apocalyptic world. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

Eugene Thacker has thrown a party for all of these eloquent cranks in “Infinite Resignation,” and he is an excellent host. The book, a collection of fragments that takes its title from Kierkegaard, is a survey of the pessimism and dark quips of the Danish philosopher and his ilk, combined with Thacker’s own aphoristic thoughts on the subject. The last third of the book is a series of short biographical essays about the “patron saints of pessimism.”

Thacker, a professor at the New School in New York City, is the author of many previous books, including a trilogy about the “horror of philosophy.” In the first volume of that series, he wrote, in a line Scranton would likely endorse, that it is “increasingly difficult to comprehend the world in which we live and of which we are a part.”

Thacker calls pessimism “the most adequate” and “the least helpful” of philosophies. He delineates two varieties of it: “The end is near” and “Will this never end?”

Werner Herzog would be ideally suited to narrate certain passages of this book. “Few sights are more awkward (or embarrassing) than that of human beings in nature,” Thacker writes. He finds self-help books not just “ineffectual” but “odorous.” Along those same lines, he expresses disappointment in Samuel Beckett for writing “Fail better,” the line of his most likely to be quoted by aspirational writers on social media. “The therapeutic function soon gets the better of us all,” Thacker laments.

Image of Søren Kierkegaard via Big Think.