The American Book of the Dead: History

Monday, July 5


I know what you’re thinking. If this is such important information, why bother posting it incrementally. My answer is that I can only post it as fast as I can write it. I’m living right now, twenty years from now. It’s July 5, 2020. I apologize in advance--there’s bound to be some confusion with this whole set up.

Let’s just say this is written in hindsight. 20/20 hindsight. Believe me, if I make any attempt at humor I should be forgiven. I have lived through a time when violence was made a religion and God was dead. By the end of this book, you’ll forgive me a bad pun or two, no matter how prosaic. Fitzgerald claimed irony was dead in "The Beautiful and the Damned." If by dead, he meant reborn, he would have been more accurate, because the true age of irony didn’t eclipse and die for another ninety years. Somehow Fitzgerald was wrong about many things: no second acts in American lives? America was about to begin the biggest second act in the cosmos.

Another question--if this is so important, why post it at all? Shouldn’t you send it to the President? You must be asking that facetiously. I think you know that most people won’t believe me. Some will, and I hope to find some of you by sending this out into the world.

On with the story. What can I tell you about myself, the world? I have two options. Show you my weaknesses, my failures, and right when you’re about to hate me I’ll tell you why I’ve been led to act that way--the formula for every last nineteenth century novel. This formula just doesn’t apply anymore. By obliterating the world, humanity had also obliterated history. We had to start over. Though the death of art is as good a place as any to talk about the death of the world. When I was in my twenties, trying to struggle to be a writer, the 19th century was just one century away, lingering like a God behind us, a giant monkey on our backs- Dostoevsky, Brontes, Flaubert, a modern Bible. For my generation, the twentieth century was the monkey and a less imposing one. For all the war, technological breakthrough, etc. the century ended in an artistic fizzle. Regrettably, the 21st began with the same fizzle which never ended. It turns out that fizzle was the sound of a wick burning out before the great dynamic explosion of war. People had stopped trying, as if they were struck with some tragic premonition. It’s all going to die, why bother. A kind of rational apathy which is only undepressing in hindsight. Instead of a great economic depression leading up to a war, there was a great artistic depression leading up to the war, which is almost to the world’s credit--that art had any impact at all. The past masters seemed clued into a greater light, but with God dying there were less clues. And it turns out that the lack of good art is as bad a thing as poverty. It fucks with the basic ether.

So I’m not going to use the nineteenth century literary convention. I won’t even go as far back as Joyce. When we’re talking about the final destruction of the world, it seems a little vain, a kind of cheat, to play with literary convention. Basically, I’m not sure how to express myself to you in literary terms when the world had become such an unliterary place. All those classic writers were part of the paradise of the past--an innocence so distant and so unreal that they no longer have the weight of a memory, or even a dream. They may have the weight of a brochure. An advertisement for something that no longer exists.

They say that every generation romanticizes the one that came before it, unrealistically. But for us it really was the last decade. The world really did suck more than it ever had. Misanthropy wasn’t just a product of envy, condescension, vanity, and immaturity, but survival. While we lived in a world of rational apathy, we also lived in a world of rational cynicism, even a rational desire for the apocalypse. Armageddon was a form of ambition, an antidote. Play Arvo Part’s "Tabula Rasa" and you might see what I mean.

Yet, I have to admit, during those years leading up to the Big One there was something electric in the air. Impending doom can be exciting. Actual doom is something else. Like the difference between drug addiction and drug withdrawal.

I didn’t know we were close to the end either. I was still thinking about Dickens and Dostoevsky, Mozart and Beethoven, Lennon/McCartney, as if past achievements would somehow save us. They were proof, weren’t they, that the human race was worth saving? They were proof like DNA evidence is proof--irrefutable, perhaps, but invisible.

The point of this prelude is to suggest that backstory is not entirely necessary. The past was dead. While World War III wouldn’t have happened without WW I and II, or anything else that had ever happened, for that matter, it was a product of a different mindset from the past. If only history could repeat itself. If only we could go back to quaint little wars like World War II when only several million died, the earth survived, and there was still a lot of history to be lived in the future. Of course, I’m a writer and my ego’s at stake so I’ll probably get into it somewhat. I am also making the vain attempt to sum up the end of the world, as if my far-sighted eyes are the window in. I guess I’ve just summed up the limitless ego of the writer. Even in the face of genocide, he tries to make a case for the beautiful uniqueness of his life. But what choice did I have in the face of the Great Oppression--the death of God, science, love and hate--except to believe in myself.

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