Friday, September 28, 2007

Perhaps the Last Judgement has Taken Place

BAUDRILLARD: We have undertaken to inflict the worst on ourselves, and to engineer our disappearance in an extremely complex and sophisticated way, in order to restore the world into the pure state it was in before we were in it.

NOAILLES: Perhaps the Last Judgement has taken place and we’re carrying out the punishment.

-Jean Baudrillard and Enrique Valiente Noailles in conversation, printed in Harpers Magazine, Oct 2007

(I think maybe they are interpreting global warming and terrorism as a collective suicide, but who knows?)

Today, for reasons of my own, jetlagged and weary, I was fussing around the library in a small town where I grew up. Outside, the shopping centre we loitered around as teenagers is being demolished inch by inch, which gives the remaining shops a strange air of evanescence and uselessness. All the big companies, the chain stores, have pulled out – a fabric shop called “Material Goods” and a Christian bookstore / cafĂ© hold out against the developers and the increasingly bleak autumn light and dead space.

So I wondered down to the library, and what should I find in star position, sitting incongruously at the head of a great flotilla of books on display, but “Complete Microwave Cookery” by a woman whose name I forget. This book, published in 1988, had been checked out many times in the 80s and early 90s but hardly ever since, and is dedicated to the creation of complete meals in the microwave. Hollandaise sauce, swordfish, rabbit, foie gras with crackers, you name it, here are instructions on how to make it in a microwave, and solely in a microwave. On the cover, the author stands showbiz-wackily in front of variety of dishes on a large trestle table, in the airbrushed suggestion of a manor house, with a lurid green shoulder-padded dress and bleach blond hair in a kind of horrendous Lady Diana doughnut-shape. It buried me in the 1980s with a sudden feeling of panic, and I remembered that they were no fun at all. I don’t think I could survive back there now, it would all be too alien, too incomprehensible, bright and stupid.

I walked through the mall for one last time, tracing the footsteps that my friends and I had taken when we were 16 and 17. A faint dizziness made me reel a little. The others, of course, are all elsewhere now, and their youthful ghosts seemed at peace. It struck me as I shuffled through, maybe we all actually ARE ghosts. Maybe the Last Judgement has already happened and nobody bothered to tell us. Letting me go on wondering around, trying to make sense out of nonsense, and talking to moronic Christians at bookstores, keeping me in hope and ignorance, that would be part of the punishment, wouldn’t it?

I returned to the library, wanting, for purposes of verisimilitude, to note the Microwave author’s name, but of course the book had vanished. I’m sure if I had searched their records there would have been no trace of it either. A clue, a small part of the world's infinite and secret catalogue, had been left out, then hastily hidden away. In some abstract sense, as I cycled home in the rain, I realised the attraction of engineering one’s disappearance and returning the world to the pure state it was in before one was in it.


Steve said...

It's a funny thing you wrote this... last night I read "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" by Borges and it reminded me of thoughts I had as a kid, laying awake at night wondering what other selves I had been or if I had missed the Final Judgement, etc. So, I was up all last night tormented by these things again. I barely made it through work (being both tired and distracted) and then I read your post. It's good to know I'm not the only one who suspects these things.

One of the schools of philosophy on Tlon goes so far as to deny the existence of time; it argues that the present is undefined and indefinite, the future has no reality except as present hope, and the past has no reality except as present recollection. Another school posits that all time has already passed, so that our life is but the crepuscular memory, or crepuscular reflection, doubtlessly distorted and mutilated, of an irrecoverable process. Yet another claims that the history of the universe-and in it-, our lives and every faintest detail of our lives-is the handwriting of a subordinate god trying to communicate with a demon. Another, that the univese might be compared to those cryptograms in which not all the symbols count, and only what happens every three hundred nights is actually real. Another, that while we sleep here, we are awake somewhere else, so that every man is in fact two men. (from "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", in Jorge Luis Borges Collected Fictions)

Alasdair said...

"Yet another claims that the history of the universe-and in it-, our lives and every faintest detail of our lives-is the handwriting of a subordinate god trying to communicate with a demon"

I love this idea. I remember telling a french interviewer - far less elegantly - that one song was about this odd sense - a faint suspicion - that the forms of the world are a little too aesthetic, a little too geometrical. Are we, in some Borgesian sense, lost, wandering around as a minor detail of a vast artwork, or as punctuation marks in some unimaginable language?

I recently read in the New York Review of Books that while Borges was outlining his stories, he would sit with Bioy Cassares in his study and laugh uproariously, much to the uneasiness of everyone else in the house.

Steve said...

I've always wanted Borges to think his writings were funny, that's really great to know.

Josh said...

Sorry, I'm a librarian. it's what we do. looks like your author is either Carol Bowen or Sonia Allison (