Climate Apocalypse + Tanya Tagaq

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This post is an introduction to Kateryna Barnes’ recently published Gothic Nature II article, “Soundtrack to Settler-Colonialism: Tanya Tagaq’s Music as Creative Nonfiction Horror.”


Our world isn’t ending. It already ended. It ended when the Zhaagnaash1 came into our original home down south on that bay and took it from us…Yes, apocalypse. We’ve had that over and over.

W. Rice, Moon of the Crusted Snow, p. 157

In the documentary SILENCE=DEATH (1990), poet and philosopher Allen Ginsberg declares AIDS to be an allegory for anthropogenic environmental destruction, saying that living with AIDS is dying with AIDS, be it planetary or personal. He says:

The planet has AIDs… ozone layer depletion, acid rain, greenhouse effect––they are lesions on the skin of the planet. Desertification, deforestation, and poison-dumping both in oceans and land… the key problem is the immune system of the planet doesn’t seem to be able to repair the damage done by the human virus (n.pg.).

Further to Ginsberg’s analogy, I posit that maybe the planet is undergoing radical radiation treatment – killing what is healthy along with the deadly in an effort to survive. It’s an impending apocalypse where death isn’t the end, but extinction is. It’s an existential end of all we know. As anthropologist Ernest Becker (1973) explains in his landmark book The Denial of Death, it is “an impossible paradox: the ever-present fear of death in the normal biological functioning of our instinct of self-preservation, as well as our utter obliviousness to this fear in our conscious life” (pg 15).  This impossible paradox is like philosopher Eugene Thacker’s (2010) framing of an unthinkable world, a speculative world. He writes:

To say that the world-without-us is antagonistic to the human is to attempt to put things in human terms, in the terms of the world-for-us. To say that the world-without-us is neutral with respect to the human, is to attempt to put things in the terms of the world-in-itself. The world-without-us lies somewhere in between, in a nebulous zone that is at once impersonal and horrific (p. 10).

That nebulous zone, the impersonal and the horrific, to actually engage with extinction in a speculative form without letting our brains override ourselves in the death-avoidance that Becker describes, is where horror media works as a translator. It invites us into a richly-imaginative space where our real-world existential dread can be faced. Tanya Tagaq’s music aims to enter that speculative space and disrupt the death-avoidance of multispecies extinction, pointing the finger at ongoing settler-colonial capitalism and White supremacy as the monster of her creative nonfiction narrative.


“Tanya Tagaq’s music aims to enter that speculative space and disrupt the death-avoidance of multispecies extinction, pointing the finger at ongoing settler-colonial capitalism and White supremacy as the monster of her creative nonfiction narrative.”


The impending climate apocalypse is not our first apocalypse, at least not for Indigenous peoples. It’s a horror we continue to live, a monster birthed and nurtured by settler-colonial capitalism that thrives on endless consumption and destruction. The only difference is that the entire planet will experience what we know all-too-well: the environmental degradation, the suffering, the death.

I know–– my exhaustion, frustration, and lack of patience (these “ugly feelings” as scholar Sianne Ngai would call them) are palpable. 

“Our mother grows angry. Retribution will be swift.” – Tanya Tagaq, “Retribution”

The idea that this isn’t our first apocalypse courtesy of settler-colonial capitalism is a common theme I see in more and more Indigenous-made media, like the aforecited novel Moon of the Crusted Snow, the zombie movie Blood Quantum, the video game Never Alone, and in the music discography of Tanya Tagaq. While each of these creative works addresses an Indigenous perspective on climate apocalypse, Tagaq’s music in particular makes it clear that the ongoing settler-colonialism, White supremacy, and environmental destruction cannot be separated, a topic my published article attempts to address through the lens of horror media.

In Tagaq’s own words, “Our mother grows angry. Retribution will be swift.”


Notes

  1. Anishnaabemowin for “White people.”

Work Cited

Becker, E. (1973) The Denial of Death. NYC: Free Press/Macmillan. 

Rice, W. (2018) Moon of the Crusted Snow. Toronto: ECW Press. 

Tagaq, T. (2016) Tanya Tagaq. Retribution (Album). [MP3]. Toronto, ON: Six Shooter Records.

Thacker, E. (2010) In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1. Alresford, UK: John Hunt Publishing.

von Praunheim, R., dir. (1990). Silence = Death. NYC: First Run Features. Accessed at https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xmafmx.

Feature Image: “Tanya Tagaq” by lllvi is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Kateryna Barnes is a digital humanities scholar at the University of Alberta. Her research explores decolonising digital space, settler-colonialism as horror culture, and the educative potential of flawed simulacra. Her dual Indigenous-settler heritage comprises displaced Kanien’kehá:ka of Akwesasne, Scottish immigrants, and Ukrainian refugees

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