Monday, May 7, 2012
Beauty Full Friend
(Because that's how Morrison says it in the recording: "beauty full friend, the end.")
I have a challenge for you, boys and girls. First, though, I need to throw out a bit of background info. Bear with me.
I love eschatology. Let's be sure we're on the same page here, kids. I'm not talking about scatology. That's the study of poop. Eschatology is the study of endings (yeah, I'm sure the similarity of those words has already borne at least several hundred great pre-adolescent poop jokes, but let's not go there). Specifically, eschatology concerns itself with theological endings. As far as I know, no one ever tries to cover studies of the last chapter of the last book of the Harry Potter series or the death of Sherlock Holmes or Superman or the last episode of Lost or Friends or Gilligan's Island, under the grand aegis of eschatology.
I love the magic of the apocalypse of fimbulwinter of the Kalki. I love the elegance, the finality, and the literariness of capping a religion with a clear boundary, even if that boundary is deathly and destructive and—sometimes—final. Eschatology comprises some of the finest poetry in the Bible, the Quran, the scrolls and scriptures and gospels and lores of every faith. Ironically, the very poetry and literariness of the various apocalypses convinces me that they're fiction. Elaborate, sometimes beautiful, often poetically just or retributive or even quite deliberately denying anything like justice, an apocalypse (which means an unveiling, by the way, not an ending) offers a glimpse of theological closure. In fulfilling all the requirements of a proper end of the universe, every religion manages—to my mind, anyway—to show itself the perfect artificial closure.
Frankly, I think T. S. Eliot was probably right. The end will come "not with a bang but a whimper."
If you're a science fiction devotee, you've probably noticed that the "not with a bang but a whimper" ending—of the world, of the human race (like my previous blog entry), of the universe—has become something of a science fiction trope unto itself. Damon Knight did a few variations on the whimper, most notably "Not With a Bang" and "To Serve Man." One Robert Silverberg story I've always loved (even though I found his view of decay ultimately a bit too conservative for my taste) is his 1972 "When We Went to See the End of the World." Nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Silverbob lost the 1973 Hugo to a tie between a Pohl/Kornbluth short, "The Meeting," and an R. A. Lafferty piece, "Eurema's Dam." I'm sure they're both fine stories, and I know I've read both, but I'm damned if I can recall either one. Silverbob also lost the 1972 Nebula to Joanna Russ' snoozefest "When It Changed." Too bad.
Silverberg's "When We Went to See the End of the World" takes place entirely at a cocktail party, where the guests are all talking about the latest social phenomenon: a time travel service that takes you forward in time to watch the end of the world. What's really remarkable to the party-goers is the fact that no two time-travellers see the same world's end. What's really remarkable to the reader is that—based on news tidbits shared at the party, including the party-goers' laissez-faire attitude about their situation—society is on the verge of collapse, with World War III looming large. Chilling story. Great stuff.
Anyway, I don't want anyone to take this as a declaration of a manifesto. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life writing nothing but "not with a bang but a whimper" tales, but I do enjoy the whimpering end stories. Last week I offered one here, and I plan to offer a few more now and then. It's fun. You can throw out just about any idea and use it to destroy the world. Douglas Adams, in his HitchHiker series offers a world that dies because of an unsanitary phone. Kurt Vonnegut turned the world's water to ice-9. Damon Knight ended the world with a Mens Room door. Try to imagine how the end of the world might be brought about by squirrels, Pez dispensers, honey bees, plastics, tampons, toenail clippings, farting cows (that one's been done: another Silverberg story).
So, let's play improv. Throw me an idea. If it interests me, I'll write a whimpering world's end. Go on: give it a shot. But, please, no poop.