IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Nina BoyIN THE SPOTLIGHT: Nina Boy
Nina Boy is currently a Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Warwick. She holds a PhD in Politics from Lancaster University, an MA in International Studies & Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and an MA (Joint Honours) in French and Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh.
What were your first thoughts, when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?
A job like this…and in Heidelberg?! I’m actually from Heidelberg but left after school and have lived mostly in the UK and Norway since. Now I can see my old school when I look out of the window of my office. I nearly didn’t apply though because I saw the Call so late, but when I read the publication list of the people involved – I’m a political scientist but very interested in history, literature studies, and archaeology – I thought, this is worth putting in some effort.
What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?
My work is situated at the so-called finance-security nexus. Finance and security are the two principal modern ways of engaging with the future, but they place antagonistic value on it: for finance the future is the chance for profit; for security the future is a threat. Something fundamental has been happening to this relationship since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the/an apocalypse plays a crucial role here. Before the crisis, orthodox economics believed that financial crises could only ever be caused exogenously. Now the self-destructive capacity of the financial system has been recognized in the concept of systemic risk and the corresponding model of governance of macroprudential regulation. But systemic risk is a notion of risk that bears no return. Not only does this go against the fundamental premise of modern finance, but it also means that the boundaries between ‘security’ and ‘finance’ are shifting. The spread of an apocalyptic imaginary raises the question whether capitalism has met its nemesis in the form of security? Or how is this relation being reconfigured?
What is your fellowship trying to achieve, which questions is it addressing, and with which methods?
To better understand the shift in the finance-security relation invoked by the/an apocalypse, my project situates apocalypse conceptually within key notions informing anticipatory security governance such as tail risk, resilience and preparedness that have also been seeping into finance. At first these seem incompatible: they conceive of the future as radically uncertain, whereas apocalypse is characterized by inevitability, that is, epistemic certainty. The question is, however, at what point this inevitability is revealed – does the end reveal itself only at the end? Resilience, in fact, also anticipates that crisis is inevitable – it just doesn’t know when it will happen. But there’s a certain functionalism to resilience that doesn’t fit well with the epic narrative of apocalypse. The distinctive element of apocalypse is this meaning-making aspect of revelation.
How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?
The fellowship for me entails an intriguing personal analogy. When I joked to a friend that perhaps my return to Heidelberg was also inevitably contained already in the beginning, he quoted T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding to me: ‘And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.’ Somehow this feels very true – I’ve gained a completely new perspective of my hometown by seeing it through the eyes of my inter-/national colleagues, including ‘foreign’ Germans ... from Bavaria for example. This element of revelatory return in apocalypse may offer something beyond two different interpretations that we’ve been discussing: the apocalyptic imaginary being, on the one hand, a form of escapism/denial and self-indulgent procrastination (Žižek) or, on the other, a radical form of critique of the present where the old world must be destroyed in order to create the new (as in accelerationism). I like to think that the apocalypse contains something beyond our control, a kind of knowledge given to us, not taken.
What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results?
I hope to further understand the complex place of security in financialized capitalism, which seems both essential to and in conflict with it. But through the collective work at the Centre I’ve also been inspired to look into other aspects of the apocalypse, from populist ressentiment and the platform economy to (trans)historical questions of witness, testimony and evidence. How do we know something has happened or something will happen, or more precisely, end? How do we witness the end? And finally, this is yet another very interesting exercise of interdisciplinarity in practice.
What have you enjoyed the most in regards to input from other disciplines, other perspectives, and the exchange with the fellows and people at CAPAS?
It’s been fascinating to see how differently the apocalypse can be approached and how fundamentally it connects to one’s general outlook. But the topic also necessarily contains some kind of Zeitdiagnostik, and for this, reading and discussing influential texts together has been really important. It’s interesting to see that a preoccupation with the end seems to demand a return to and rewriting of the beginning – Graeber and Wengrow, Buck-Morss, Scheidler all do that. This also comes through in imaginations of the Hobbesian state of nature that the apocalyptic event supposedly (re)creates, despite it working as legitimating fiction for the social contract theories.
Altogether I’ve come to realise that the humanities’ take on the (post-)apocalypse is crucial. We’re at a fundamental shift of what it means to be human. Yet the apocalypse is descending on the perceived societal value of the humanities themselves, as you can see by cuts and sinking student numbers around the world. That might be the ultimate tragedy: as a society we’re losing interest in and a certain sensibility for what it means to be human at the very point of transforming into tech-primed interfaces competing for attention on social platforms. That’s what makes CAPAS such a unique and important place.
What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse — whether its films, books, a YouTube channel, or music — what can you recommend?
Melancholia by Lars von Trier is still my favourite apocalyptic film. The cinematography especially at the beginning and the end are stunning; it should definitely be watched in a cinema if possible. I like that it is really about the end, not some kind of postapocalyptic lingering of semi-alive creatures. It focuses on the relationship between two very different sisters – one seemingly in control of her life, one manically depressed – and how their strength is reversed by this absolute ending. I’ve also enjoyed many of the films of the Apocalyptic cinema series: especially older ones like On the beach and Cassandra Crossing.
To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?
Maybe a time machine, just to have options!