by Jodie Hawkes and Pete Phillips (Search Party) and Ian Hornsby
This piece of writing is in the proximity of Search Party’s new performance project 12 Hopeful Acts. Following the 2018 UN IPCC report, which warns of just 12 years to avert climate catastrophe, we want to practice critical hope. What follows below are 39 fragments of conversations with comic artist and writer Ian Hornsby as we try to understand the idea of ‘hope’. For 12 Hopeful Acts, Ian drew a series of short narrative comics about hope, to fit on postcards. The 39 fragments have been re-written as the collective ‘WE’, in the hope of articulating a slippery, sometimes conflicting idea of solidarity.
Part 1: Despair, naiveté and critical hope
1. The world has already ended. The world as we know it at least.
2. Yesterday we took the kids to the toyshop with some money from granny. They chose plastic figures in excessive plastic wrapping. We didn’t stop them. On the way home we met a friend, we could feel the giant plastic Pokémon junk between us. We could feel its presence.
3. We never see many birds in the garden.
4. It’s in everything now. Every interaction, we can’t unknow this climate knowing.
5. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by it, like a cynical weight heavy on our shoulders, like a sour sweet in our mouths.
6. How might we draw hope? (Words feel like they are failing us.)
7. ‘Hope’ can sometimes sound a bit naïve, a bit embarrassing; sometimes we can feel our eyes roll when we say it out loud… we get this talk radio voice in our heads muttering about ‘that-being-all-well-and-good-but-we-live-in-the-real-world’ sort of thing.
8. We are not very hopeful.
9. We decide that feeling naïve when saying you are hopeful is completely understandable. We say this because it relates to ideas that the pre-Socratic poet and cosmologist Hesiod had when addressing the topic of Hope: Elpis (ἐλπίς), in his Work and Days from the 8th century BCE. Hesiod sees hope as both a positive and a negative at the same time. He tells the story of Pandora and how hope is the one item left in the jar after she has released all of the other evils into the world. Hope is seen as a comfort to us, something that we can release from the jar in times of misery. However, hope is also an evil, because it makes us idle, in merely being able to release hope from the jar and then sit back and wait for change to happen rather than us having to work hard to create change. It reminds us of what Mark Fisher, in Capitalist Realism (2009), calls ‘interpassivity’, a form of ‘action’ without consequence, allowing us to continue with impunity – fulfilling our ‘desire’ for change without changing our disposition or actually having to act all (Fisher, 2009:23-24).
10. Optimists think everything will be ok without any action, pessimists think any action is pointless – both excuse themselves from acting.
11. We think what we need is critical hope (Solnit, 2016).
12. Rebecca Solnit says ‘Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naïveté.’ She writes:
[History] is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal, and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble.
13. We think about hope like a game of roulette. Hope is having a stake in the game. If you hope to win at the roulette table without putting down a stake, you are not only deluded, but a fool. But if you put down a stake and believe optimistically that your positive vibes might effect the outcome of this random game, then once again you are not hopeful, but a fool. But to place down a stake, to put some skin in the game, even though you know you will likely lose, you are at least genuinely hopeful. And you might even succeed. Is this hopefulness naiveté? Perhaps, but it is not foolish.
14. It seems that every philosopher in the tradition of Western metaphysics have written conflicting things on the subject of hope.
15. Here is our own conflicting representation of hope in this postcard comic. We hope it can be read in both a positive and a negative way.
17. Is the man on the post card happy writing every day? Is the man writing hopeful words onto that paper? Or is it telling us to not waste time, living an unhappy life? Is the man on the postcard committed to a daily writing activism, an act of solidarity?
18. Live every day as if it were your last, reminds us of Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UK Parliament. ‘It was stolen from us (our future) every time you said that the sky was the limits and that you only live once.’
Part 2: Solidarity, hope and the ‘WE’
19. Maybe you think that we must hate it that we get clumped together (for this I’d like you to imagine that Jodie and Ian are sat here with me), that the three of us should speak separately. But we like being clumped together. We like being a WE.
20. We are the WE and you are the YOU? How do we let each other in?
21. Everything is so separated into the I’s. This is mine. My thing. My house. My stuff. My ideas. My voice.
22. It is difficult understanding someone else. We should try harder.
23. For 12 Hopeful Acts we hope to collaborate with other people. Other People! There we go again. Us and Them.
24. Our WE is already a thing, a beast, an entangled something, an intertwined thingy, a messy arguing interaction, a way of thinking and seeing with many arms and many legs.
25. We want to make our WE bigger.
26. No, we want to make a new WE. That acknowledges our differences and doesn’t try to manipulate or take control.
27. Eco philosopher Timothy Morton says we need to have a conversation about ourselves as a species, but recognises why this is so difficult. This WE tends to gloss over culpability, the WE kind of lumps everyone together, the global North gets squished together with the global South, the industrialised West gets mushed into less industrialised countries, the rich become indistinguishable from the poor, and everyone (WE) get the blame. Which isn’t fair. Of course WE’re not all as culpable as each other. But, knowing this, Morton still advocates for a WE, that the conversation about global warming needs to include a sense of ourselves as a species, as the same. And it’s really difficult, and unfair, but we think his WE is ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’, a way of trying to think in a scale that is useful in relation to global warming as a hyperobject (a real thing that is so vastly distributed across time and space that it is impossible to fully encounter.) And for Morton the WE (despite its problems) is much more useful than the ‘I’.
28. We do like Timothy Morton and we do have a great deal of respect for his intellect but his overly apocalyptic asides do tend to position him in that rather awkward Romantic/Enlightenment tradition of thought that is neither scientific nor philosophical but slightly manic in tone, but then we find that all of the Object Orientated Ontologists fall into the apolitical category. We decide reading Timothy Morton isn’t making us feel hopeful.
29. But, whilst we know Morton and OOO can come off as apolitical – not in a passive way but in that there is a certain geological scale at play here that does vastly outspan human existence – we agree there are notions of WE and especially Marxist notions of solidarity that come through his writing. We decide reading Timothy Morton is making us hopeful.
30. We talk for hours about the difficultly in not seeing ourselves as separate from ‘nature’, not seeing ‘nature’ as this other category that becomes easy to ignore? That just like coral and trees and rain and ants, we are part of the biosphere and are interconnected.
31. We read Morton’s latest book, he argues that non-human nature can be included within a Marxist understanding of ‘solidarity’. We really like this idea – that solidarity has do so with an ecological awareness, that we are entwined within the biosphere, that our collective thinking for how our future might look is inclusive. And we decide that all of that requires critical hope. A kind of radical repositioning of ourselves within our world, that can sound a bit silly – like human rights for rocks and trees – it’s not the easiest sell. But we feel that’s what Solnit gives us; the idea that we need critical hope, to continue forward, to believe that change is possible even if we don’t know what that might look like yet.
32. We agree that we need to try harder to make the WE triumph over the MY. But any movement based on solidarity must not only have the common interests amongst the individuals involved but also work towards enabling others to emancipate themselves. History shows us that movements of solidarity that are either self-interested or, worse still, messianic in thinking they are responsible for freeing others, are doomed to fail.
33. We created the comic postcard below based loosely on the words of Vladimir Lenin from his What is to be Done from 1902. In his early writings Lenin was all about International solidarity and only later did his writings and actions fall short in term of being motivated by self-interest.
35. We go round in circles, back and forth. We disagree. We argue. We fight. We appear to make up. We decide we want it one way, and then we don’t. We say we will do something and then we don’t. It’s exhausting. We keep on keeping on.
36. We think that the best stories are the ones that give us hope. They are the narratives that can’t be fixed or turned into a singularity. Instead they attempt to present an unknown future reading/viewing/hearing, that can’t be controlled or guaranteed. They hand over agency to the reader/viewer/audience and in this way, they become the epitome of Solidarity and Hope. This is because Hope suggests a form of dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs and as such Hope demands that the status quo be overcome. Hope desires its own overcoming.
37. So, hopefully our co-operation as a WE during 12 Hopeful Acts is an act of dissatisfied hope that seeks a form of solidarity with those we don’t yet know.
38. We’ve been thinking about what we should do with the postcards.
39. We decide to send one of the postcards to our friend, who is very unwell, who is in need of something hopeful. We write about some of our thoughts on hope. We hope she gets it.
Search Party is the collaboration of artists Jodie Hawkes and Pete Phillips. Formed in 2005 Search Party’s work has encompassed theatre, live art, durational performance, participatory art, home video and performative writing. Search Party’s work has been performed in venues and festivals in the UK and Internationally, including Culturegest (Lisbon, Portugal), The National Review of Live Art (Glasgow, UK), ANTIfestival (Kuopio, Finland), Plateux (Frankfurt, Germany), ArtBatFest (Almaty, Kazakstan) and Junction Arts Festival (Launceston, Australia). Current projects STORM, Landfill and Other Climate Games for Familes and 12 Hopeful Acts explore the politics of ecological crisis and performances of hope. Jodie and Pete are both Senior Lecturers in Theatre at the University of Chichester. www.searchpartyperformance.org.uk
Ian Hornsby is a comic book writer and artist who specialises in creating comics that address complex ideas in new and accessible ways. He is Senior Lecturer in Critical and Cultural Theory within the Department of Theatre at the University of Chichester. Ian left school at age 15 without qualifications or the ability to either read or write and worked for 10 years as an apprentice served Boatbuilder. As a single parent, he was able to go back to learning when his son started school. His recent Publication …Comic Books, Möbius Strips, Philosophy and…. (2019) can be found on The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship and his latest comic book VOP can be seen at https://ihornsby.co.uk/