At War With the World
Derrick Jensen's Now this War Has Two Sides
By William Gresham
Missouri Sierra Club
Among those who have read the works of Derrick Jensen (including A Language Older Than Words, The Culture Of Make Believe, and, most recently [with artist Stephanie McMillan], the graphic novel As The World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay In Denial), many have had the opportunity to see and hear him in person. It is not overstating the case to call what Jensen does performance. Jensen’s newest release is a recording of the talk he’s been doing, more-or-less, since the publication of Endgame in 2006. This recording was made live in Vancouver, BC (the liner notes indicate “fills from various other shows”).
Given the gravity of the topic (track titles include “Apocalypse,” “Smashing The Death Camp,” “Civilization Can Never Be Sustainable,” “How Bad Does It Have To Get?,” “Insanity,” and “Culture Of Occupation”) and length of his talk (with Q & A, these two CDs run nearly two hours), Jensen is wildly entertaining.
Jensen’s presentation is not for the faint-of-heart. He levels both barrels at what he has called “the most destructive culture ever to exist,” and few are spared, including environmental activists. He reserves his strongest criticism for the corporations and related forces which are malignantly stripping the planet of what is necessary to support life—not just that of its human inhabitants, but all life. But few, if any of us are immune to the level of reflection for which Jensen calls. Some listeners will blanch at Jensen’s strong language, but it is not gratuitous. In fact, while that language would qualify this as PG-13 (or R) as a film, the message is one which should be heard by audiences of all ages. Perhaps the greatest trepidation on the part of listeners will be reserved for Jensen’s methodical disparagement of hope, which he calls “a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.” In fact, Jensen is doing us a favor, arguing that we must stop hoping and start doing, whatever it takes to prevent industrial civilization from destroying the world.
In Endgame, Jensen explicitly lays out twenty premises at the beginning of the book, in order to avoid the device of hiding his presumptions, which he says is customary in other writing. In Now This War Has Two Sides, Jensen uses several of these premises as jumping-off points on which to expand on his philosophical and scientific conclusions. In language as beautiful as a Beethoven sonata (check out his reading of “Pretend You Are A River”) or as blunt as a Megadeth guitar riff in the solar plexus at 110 decibels, he displays his art, and his heart, on his sleeve.
For fans of Jensen’s earlier works, or for those who have enjoyed seeing him in person, it would be difficult to overemphasize this recommendation to get and listen to Now This War Has Two Sides. And for those who find themselves interested (and not put off by the above qualifications regarding topic and language), this audio release would be a great introduction to the work of one of this generation’s most important intellectuals and cultural critics.