Everybody’s got that end of the world fever. The paranoia pandemic. The sky is falling, except this time it is not a drill so everybody take cover. Catastrophe, baby! Apocalypse mania.
Forget reading about dystopias, we’re living in one.
In light of this, why bother with creation? Who are all of these weirdos writing things and making art? What’s the point? Better to go down to the local hardware store (if Walmart or Home Depot hasn’t driven it out of business), purchase a good shovel (while you can still fit the necessary amount of currency needed to in your pocket and not in a wheelbarrow), and dig yourself a bunker. Fill that bunker with canned food—don’t forget the can-opener—and hide out until the rest of the world eats itself.
All of that high-minded art stuff can hang. The world is ending. The rough beast is slouching towards Bethlehem as we speak. It’ll be born any day now. Why would I read a book?
Before we get to that, here’s a quick etymology lesson. Both “catastrophe” and “apocalypse” are Greek words, the former literally meaning “to overturn,” with the latter literally meaning “to uncover, expose, or reveal.” Now, who among you wouldn’t want Clown World to be overturned, and the rotten truth eating away at its gut to be revealed?
Now for the answer. It’s going to require some positivity and optimism, so if you are prone to despair, stop reading.
The thing to keep in mind is that collapse rarely, if ever, happens all at once. You will not go to sleep one day with everything being the same as it ever one and wake up only to behold smoking ruins and shambling survivors outside of your bedroom window.
No, it will happen bit by bit—it is happening bit by bit, and has been for decades—everything getting a little more vicious and mean, a little more stupid, things working less and less, people working less and less, the capacity for deep thought diminished . . . video replaces the written word, bright children’s-book images replace video . . . spelling and vocabulary are dumbed down to accommodate people who can’t grasp the basics of language. . . music consisting of little more than incessantly repeated notes and jackhammer rhythms . . . airplanes falling from the sky . . . spies being captured and killed abroad because they’re too stupid to follow protocol . . . your lawyer receiving their J.D. and passing the bar because the state licensing board had quotas to fill . . . why learn to read, anyway? All our devices can talk to us now.
To paraphrase a famous neoreactionary, things will get lamer by the year, until one day you wake up and won’t even notice anything is out of the ordinary. But then, maybe over your morning cup of coffee a memory will come unbidden, a flashback to twenty years ago and how things used to be. You will compare them to how they are now, wistfully musing about that time you called the plumber in your old house . . . and not only did he show up when he said he would, but he spoke your language, and he didn’t spend three hours banging under your sink and still not know what was wrong (and charging you for his time), and he had the right parts, and the whole thing only took a hair under ninety minutes and he was a really nice guy; you even offered him a cup of coffee, but he politely declined because he already had three that morning, but would you mind if he used your bathroom really quickly before he was off to his next job? You took his card and when you said you’d recommend him to your brother-in-law who was also having sink troubles, it wasn’t just talk; you actually did.
We are not going to wake up in the Gulag. God-willing, we won’t even sleepwalk there. Like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote (oh, how often that prophet, that giant of a man, that God-like presence who humbled himself before the presence of God, comes up these days!), resist or not, that’s the future anyway, so like denizens of the ghetto firing on the police at the most extreme, or refusing to cooperate and turn in their co-ethnics at the least, any who love freedom and abhor tyranny need to learn how to band together and take a goddamn risk for once in our lives so the devil’s little enforcers think twice about trying to round us up and cart us away.
So why read? Why write? Why appreciate fine art? Why listen to good music? Why aesthetics?
* * *
Desolation and waste. A charred urban landscape. Piles of bricks and wood liter the blackened ground. Slag where sidewalks used to be. Maybe there are organic remains among the ruins, the throbbing gristle of burned unfortunates now forever a part of the city they used to call home. Fog low in the sky. A light drizzle. Indeterminate season or time of day. What remains standing?
Like sentinels grimly surveying the aftermath of battle, you will see the chimneys standing tall against the gloom.
They stand because they were built of strong materials to withstand fire and flood, wind and rain and snow. They stand because they were created to stand. Nobody will be building fires in them now, yet if one wished, they could rebuild a structure around the chimney and hearth, creating a new home where now stands only cinder and ash.
Someday, young ones and old ones and the ones in between may sit around that very same hearth, reading and taking heart and inspiration in the words written at the time the flames and the bullets and bombs laid waste to the thriving city outside
For it was in these works that they found the courage to endure in the first place.
There is never a bad time to create. You are only here because your ancestors in times long past, in times of famine and war and rape and pillage and pestilence, when they thought the Second Coming was here, it was happening, they still decided to throw their hopes upon God, embrace each other in love, and create life.
We need art for the apocalypse. Art like a chimney we can build around. When the ministries of truth peddle naught but lies, only our stories can preserve the truth. Build them up, brick by brick, and don’t stop even when the bombs start to fall.