anagnori

The End, The End, The End by Chad Harbach

In books, ecology, economics, literature, nature, North America, writers on November 3, 2012 at 20:56

From: The End, The End, The End: Why bother dreaming up a devastated world when you live in one? Chad Harbach, n +1 Magazine, http://nplusonemag.com

It remains the method of most sci-fi novels to imagine a kind of heightened present, combining and extrapolating extant technologies (an MP3 player … in your brain!) to demonstrate their psychological and political effects. The post-catastrophe novel does the opposite; it takes away the MP3 player, and almost everything else. It liberates the violent potential of technology (and its enemy, nature) to create an altered world whose chief characteristic is a bewildering lack of technology. This in turn means a severely winnowed human population, and plenty of hardship and casual brutality. This future doesn’t intensify the present moment, it contradicts it: What would happen if we didn’t live in an overpopulated, technology-saturated world in which travel by foot is considered eccentric, tacos cost forty-nine cents, and the prerogative to commit violence—despite an amazing profusion of handheld weaponry—lies entirely with the state?

We didn’t always live in this kind of world. Or rather, we always did, but not long ago even Americans and Western Europeans didn’t. They lived in the 19th century, before the full flowering of the petroleum age; they belong to history. So too, increasingly, do the residents of the 20th century, with their reliance on cheap oil and predictable climate patterns. The century just ended was full of anxiety and terror, but it was also a pampered time. Even while tens of millions were murdered by oil-driven technologies like incendiary bombs and gas chambers, other oil-dependent technologies like tractors, penicillin, and nitrogen fertilizers enabled the population to quadruple in a few generations, and produced unprecedented comfort and ease for unprecedentedly large numbers of people. Now we’ve burned half the available oil, or close to it, and burning it (along with so much coal) has altered the earth’s equilibrium. Our future, like our past, may be virtually free of oil, and global culture, and many of the social safeguards we enjoy. Thus the novel of future catastrophe threatens to become a version of the historical novel.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1 Magazine

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  1. […] n + 1: “The End, The End, The End. Why bother dreaming up a devastated world when you live in one?” by Chad Arbach, Fall 2007. First spotted via Anagnori. […]

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