The End of the World

The End of the World

The End of the World

The End of the World

Excerpt

"This is the way the world ends," T. S. Eliot wrote in "The Hollow Men" (1925), "not with a bang but a whimper." But modern science fiction has it both ways: in one story worlds collide, in the next the degenerate remnants of humanity huddle in a cave. We are driven from our world by our exploding sun or killed upon our world by mutated monsters of both the gigantic and microscopic sorts. Aliens intervene to wipe us out or transform us into their livestock. Even in the blessed cases in which the real estate is neither disinfected nor thoroughly atomized, "the world as we know it" seems doomed. This is, of course, no better than we deserve: we who have sown the world with technologies that fairly seduce us into Armageddon should expect to reap the worldwind. The modern popular literature of the end of the world continues humanity's permanent questioning of its place and its permanent quest for a reason to exist. We forever reimagine the pilgrimage in and out of history, seeking the well at the world's end, to drink the knowledge the gods withheld from Adam.

Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden . . . and . . . placed . . . a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Gen. 3:22-24)

One way or another, we have always wanted to know too much, have made our Father-Gods jealous, have risked changing the world and thereby, inevitably, changed it. Ending our world, we simultaneously create a new one, one sometimes fearful and one sometimes hopeful, but one that always depends for its emergence upon the destruction of the world that preceded it. No matter how indirectly, we always call destruction an act we regret and yet somehow cherish as our own. If . . .

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