IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Amin SammanIN THE SPOTLIGHT: Amin Samman
Amin Samman is Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy at City, University of London and co-Director of the City Political Economy Research Centre. His research explores the temporal, historical, and existential aspects of contemporary capitalism, with a particular emphasis on the workings of money, debt, and finance.
What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?
That it was great to see a project that wasn’t promising to heal the world. These days funded research is all about solving problems, finding solutions, and creating world peace. Meanwhile, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. So it was refreshing to see a call to confront the apocalyptic mood head on. Our demise depends on it!
What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?
To me the apocalypse is a narrative archetype. That means it’s a way of giving shape to time and history that has captured the human imagination for millennia. And it persists because it provides a sense of order, purpose, and meaning that is ultimately irresistible. Who can resist the idea that one day things will end, that after that everything will be different, perhaps better, and that maybe we humans have a crucial role to play in bringing about such a transformation? Not many of us, it would seem.
What is your fellowship trying to achieve, which questions is it addressing, and with which methods?
The aim of my fellowship is to better understand the links between apocalypse, nihilism, and finance. My suspicion is that nihilism is being financialised, and that this has important implications for the status of apocalyptic thinking today. I have a set of questions about nihilism and apocalypse (How does nihilism relate to the end of worlds? Which sorts of world does nihilism pertain to? What kinds of ending does it enact?). I also have a set of questions about how all this relates to financial capitalism (How do endings and endlessness figure within the operations of finance? In what ways does this register in everyday attitudes towards meaning, value, truth, and purpose?). My approach is interdisciplinary, but my methods are ruthlessly traditional: reading, thinking, writing.
How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?
In my previous research, I explored the significance of crisis and apocalypse within the construction of financial history. That meant understanding the way these concepts work behind-the-scenes in financial journalism, policymaking, and popular culture, shaping the way we imagine and produce history. My project at CAPAS aims to locate nihilism within contemporary financial capitalism, so in a way it is a logical next step for me. It continues my focus on finance but replaces crisis with nihilism. Both of these terms (crisis and nihilism) are loaded with ambiguity. Both can also be understood as modern reworkings of apocalypse.
What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results?
I hope to take away a good familiarity with the conceptual histories attached to nihilism and apocalypse. I also hope to have made some headway connecting these to the calling cards of contemporary financial life, from personal indebtedness and stock market investing to the purchase and sale of crypto assets. If things go well, that should translate into a clear outline for my next book and a few draft chapters. Having the time to pursue this is something I am very grateful to CAPAS for.
What are the aspects you are looking forward to at CAPAS?
I am excited to acquire a new set of colleagues with whom there is no requirement to suffer or discuss the toils of petty university administration. I relish the prospect of sitting around, thinking and talking through developments in the field of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic studies. I truly can think of nothing better. I am looking forward to getting to know everyone, finding out what they’re working on, and learning new things.
To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?
I would like some good pots and pans to cook with, a musical instrument to play, and a huge multi-storey library containing all the great works of world literature.
What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse?
In terms of films, I want to say The Running Man (1987), The Truman Show (1998), and Being John Malkovich(1999). None really fit the genre stereotypes of apocalyptic cinema, except maybe The Running Man, which is set in a dystopian police state. What I like about these films is the way they deal with being trapped, and being trapped in a way that entails the logic of media and/or celebrity. I think that’s an interesting way of thinking about the end today. They’re postmodern apocalyptic narratives. Some more recent examples have already come up in conversation here at CAPAS that are worth a watch too: the Black Mirror episode ‘Fifteen Million Credits’ (2011) and Father John Misty’s music video, ‘Total Entertainment Forever’ (2017). Give them a spin!