Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

11
NOT WITH A BANG BUT WITH A WHIMPER: ANTICATASTROPHIC ELEMENTS IN VANCE'S DYING EARTH

Gregory M. Shreve

And all the world's a stage,
and all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
. . . Last scene of all,
that ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. 1

Catastrophe is change. Derived from the Greek kata, meaning "downwards," and strephein, meaning "to turn," it originally referred to the change which produces the denouement of a drama, quite literally the "turning upside down" of the beginning of the plot. Man is a creature of such inversions and changes. His birth is catastrophic, thrusting him, abruptly, onto the world's stage. It is a violent coming forth, the culmination, itself, of a small explosive catastrophe of passion. A man's death is his final, private catastrophe, a "turning upside down" of his birth, as his birth was an inversion of his conception. It does not seem strange therefore that man, a creature of such eventful history, should view his world and his universe as an unstable and violent place. Man has conceived of world's end, quite characteristically, as a sudden and violent change; world's end is an equivalent but inverted form of the world's turbulent and fiery birth. Birth and death are reflections of one another. Which is beginning and which is end?

Authors and poets have conceived of the world's end in a variety of forms:

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