The intensity and scale of the Victorian bush fires stuns the imagination. The photos of those killed are heartwrenching. For Australia this is an example of what Alain Badiou has called a ‘truth event’ – a moment prior to emotional or intellectual assimilation, an interpretative vacuum as yet unready to be filled with meaning or ideology.
Fires, of course, don’t speak, and they don’t deliver messages. To seek to understand what they say to us is inevitable, though, the start of a ‘truth process’. It is to come up against ‘the Real’, as Lacan put it.
For grid-group Cultural Theory, these kinds of events are a kind of ‘ground zero’ for the ongoing creation of meaning and organisation that is culture. Watch how quickly commentators now step into the breach and start to name the un-namable.
What, so far, is the message of the fires?
For Egalitarian scientist Tim Flannery , the message is obvious: global warming. For many politicians, the message is more traditional, if still Egalitarian: we must all pull through together, or not at all.
However, with fires at one end of the country and floods at the other, many Australians will, as ever, be filling the vacuum with a Fatalist message: nature is capricious. Keep your head down, make the best of it you can, and put the rest down to sheer luck.