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The Lul

*politics

THE LULL

OUR AGE OF CATASTROPHIC UNEVENTFULNESS

by Nicolas Guilhot

“It’s a dead calm, isn’t it?” “It is, sir. But there’s something out of the common coming, for sure.”

— Joseph Conrad, Typhoon N

othing happens. A dull sea, the color of slate, mirrors the gray skies billowing above. The sun flickers through the mist, its pale disc begging for an appearance, like an old actor whose glory has passed. The wind has slackened. Any sense of direction and purpose has given way to aimless drift. Time seems to have come to a halt. Ennui builds— and yet, the stillness is rife with threat.

In Conrad’s novella Typhoon, the lull is the omen of a catastrophe foretold. Everything seems to be in a state of suspension that could unravel at any moment. The lull exists only against the backdrop of a cataclysmic event, provisionally deferred and yet constantly prefigured. Nothing happens, but everything feels “tense and unsafe like a slender hair holding a sword suspended over [one’s] head.” Located somewhere over the line of the horizon, the menace remains abstract and invisible. Or perhaps it’s just a figment of the imagination, something one might have read about in navigation manuals but that reality can never quite match. At least, this is the impression of MacWhirr, the captain of the steamer in Typhoon. He decides to stay his course.

In his famous 1989 essay, Francis Fukuyama made uneventfulness the defining feature of our time. One could tell that we had reached the end of history when nothing happened anymore. Of late, it is fashionable to dismiss Fukuyama’s pronouncement as disconfirmed by recent events,

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