My entire generation is traumatised by something that hasn’t happened yet.
Shaking and sleeplessness, self-immolating alcoholism, fits of violent rage and sobbing breakdowns, weeks of self-imposed seclusion, an epidemic of anxiety. Generation Todestrieb. The accusatory inner voice that used to constantly seek out our weaknesses and insecurities doesn’t even have to bother anymore. It just screams its wordless rage directly into our stream of thought, knowing that we know exactly what it means. We have all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, except that for many of us there’s no primal fracture, no repressed event. What’s tormenting us is the future, or rather the lack of a future. Now that the myth of human progress has been gently euthanised, the only thing facing us is catastrophe. We’re standing on a cliffside, so close to the edge that the angle of its descent isn’t even visible. There’s just a blank and distant sea.
Days thud past like slats on a railway line, their rhythm producing only a jolting queasiness. They’re not hard to fill. Aside from the ego-dystonicity of l’héautontimorouménos [the Self-Tormentor], which is quite time-consuming all by itself, I tend to find myself wasting a few hours on a couple of Nouvelle Vague films. Sad men and self-destructive women fuck, kill cops, smoke cigarettes, and feel nothing — and I’m always left with a strange kind of jealousy, as if an impeccably cut charcoal-grey suit and an Erik Satie soundtrack could lend my unhappiness some kind of significance. Or I’ll watch Hollywood blockbusters online, pirated cam versions filmed in a cinema somewhere in the Russian provinces. I prefer them. It’s not low quality, it’s high aesthetics. Action is flattened, motion is shaky, the multi-million dollar digital effects spectacle is reduced to a chaotic blur, an intricate mess of abstract patterns rising from the darkness of the screen; the whole thing starts to look like an overblown tribute to German Expressionism. All this is punctuated by occasional twelve-hour binges, expensive drinks and gambling, until I emerge somewhere near the embankment some time after dawn and idly consider throwing myself in the Thames. It’s not too bad.
It’s us millennials — the generation born after the early 1980s — who carry the brunt of the ongoing anxiety epidemic. It’s not hard to see why. We’re the inheritors of an economic crisis that is starting to seem less and less like a genuine collapse and more and more like a cover for wholesale pillage on the part of the ultra rich, a planet that’s slowly choking to death in its own farts, a society steadily reverting to the age-old division between the smugly monied and the shambling cap-in-hand peons. It’s there in our popular entertainment: we don’t expect glittering crystal cities, however dystopian, what we expect is a future of zombie hordes and mud-caked poverty.