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 / café 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.