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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Bugarach, Edgar Poe, and the end of the world

According to Mayan calculations, or rather to disreputable self-appointed Mayan experts, the world will come to an end in one month exactly, which leaves me little time to pay my taxes. I wonder what it will be like. Shall we have the time to realise what is going on, boosting the profits of our mobile phone operators one last time? “Yeah, I can see it – it’s big and green and gooey and – oh my God it just swallowed the petrol station! I love you darling! [sobbing] I love you!” Probably not. I expect something swift, quick-fried blue steak type. (Did the Mayas eat steaks?) Arguably, the odds of seeing the UMP, France’s right-wing party, split in the next four weeks are much greater, but of course of lesser magnitude worldwide. France, however, or at least one tiny part of it, might be the winner. Apparently the little village of Bugurach in the French Pyrenees will be the only place on earth left standing after 21 December. Follow this link to read Angelique Chrisafis’s excellent report from Bugurach for The Guardian. Of course one can sneer at those lunatics who have started gathering there, or fear there might be suicidal doomsday cult members among them. But one can also see this as living literature – and from what I read most of those who are planning to go there on 20 December, or who have been looking for the treasure of Abbé Saunière in the same region (remember the Da Vinci Code?), fall back on a massive suspension of disbelief, which is, after all, rather uplifting. In literature proper, apocalyptic fiction is a sub-genre of science-fiction concerned with the end of human life or the end of the world as we know it. One of the first examples (Biblical and other mythological stories set apart) is Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion.” Eiros died in the apocalypse (a comet hit the earth) and describes the scene, as well as people’s attitudes over the preceding days, to Charmion, who had been dead for some years when it all happened. The story is very short; click on this link to read the full text. Here is the last paragraph:
Edgar Allan Poe

“Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of mankind? That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us with hope, was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its impalpable gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation of Fate. Meantime a day again passed, bearing away with it the last shadow of Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms rigidly outstretched toward the threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud. But the nucleus of the destroyer was now upon us; even here in Aidenn, I shudder while I speak. Let me be brief—brief as the ruin that overwhelmed. For a moment there was a wild lurid light alone, visiting and penetrating all things. Then—let us bow down, Charmion, before the excessive majesty of the great God!—then, there came a shouting and pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself of HIM; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed, burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all-fervid heat even the angels in the high Heaven of pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.”

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