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#endoftheworld

Fragments

The end of the world. Again

August 25, 2016



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Apocalypse: an idea, like that of love, which pervades the culture of all times.

 





The story of the “End of the World” is as long as the story of the “Origin of the World”. Both consign to the “myth” and somewhat detract from the science. Cosmogony, eschatology and teleologies are abundant in oral tradition and were transferred to the first written documents, in particular religious texts, regardless of the time or place in which they were written. However, the understanding of the motion of the planets, the formation of galaxies, the emergence of life on Earth, the origin of the species at a certain point abandons the enslavement to the divine or, at least, comes to a compromise with it. However in the long repertoire of thought entrusted to libraries, the prediction of catastrophe or the search to find out why we are here, it is a struggle to deviate from the irrational, from reliance on faith and emotions. The history of the apocalypse can not distance itself from the history of fear, especially from the fear of death: that of our own, our loved ones, the surrounding environment or that of this vast place which we call home. There have certainly been points of overlap in the history of death itself, of how we process it and how we would like to avoid it.

 

However, the Apocalypse takes form in some extraordinary philosophical treatises and literary works devoted entirely to the subject, and even permeates the text forming a foundation which becomes an obsession, a constant glimmer, a scholarly citation. Almost everyone is aware of the Apocalypse of John, depicted in the engravings of Dührer or in the frescoes of the Baptistry in Padua, painted by Giusto de’ Menabuoi. Works such as The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler, The Last Days of Mankind by Karl Kraus, In the Shadow of Tomorrow by Johan Huizinga or Dissipatio H.G. by Guido Morselli are, instead, not known to a large audience. Nevertheless, they pose the unsettling question of what could become of human beings if we continue down this road of conflict, pollution of the planet and indiscriminate exploitation.

 

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The nuclear conflict which caused such anguish throughout the middle of the last century was overshadowed by the fall of a wall which has left many more to be built. The ominous radioactive cloud of Chernobyl and the toxic disaster of Bophal have vanished, leaving behind remains of industries and an impalpable economy based on bytes and capital gain. The joyful and reckless toast in Joseph Roth’s 1938 The Emperor’s Tomb - “Over the glasses from which we drank to excess, an invisible Death was already crossing his bony hands” - does not suffice in warning us in a world where we are glued to playstations, loitering in shopping centres, blinded by Facebook, incited by panic and inaction caused by the propaganda surrounding a handful of bombs and a flow of migrants.


Panic over an impending Judgement Day and the delusions about the idea of the end of the world have been around for thousands of years, leading up to the fateful catastrophe predicted for 12.12.12 by the Mayans. It peaked around the end of the 19th century, with the loss of an unquestioning faith in progress and the atomic mushrooms of Hiroshima. It has interweaved with utopias and dystopias, confusing historical and biological times, and it continues in this long line of disaster films leading right up to the zombies of the post-destruction of the planet. We must pay more attention to ideas, such as love, which pervade the culture of all times, if we do not wish to remain terrified of yet another prophecy, which will inevitably come soon, of the disappearance of everything and the definitive victory of nothing.



Cover image:

The "Baker" explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on 25 July 1946. Photo: United States Department of Defense (either the U.S. Army or the U.S. Navy) - derivative work: Victorrocha (talk), wikimedia commons, CC-BY-NC-ND.


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