Ah, the heady days of our civilizational maelstrom. As the world we knew is ripped to shreds and flung around us in centripetal chaos I can recognize fragments of familiar things flying by. Sort of like the images that Dorothy sees in the scene where she is riding in the tornado and sees her friends and relatives float by in a rocking chair or a row boat.
You recognize some normal American ritual or an icon of a former day. There’s a flash of recognition and it triggers some reflexive emotion or thought. And then it flies by and is gone and the reality of being spun around in a howling cyclone of fragmented bits of the former reality returns.
But when we’re not fighting for our lives, human beings have to search for the interesting and enjoyable things around them. Even in hell there must be a coffee break where people gather around the water cooler (or battery acid cooler) and shoot the breeze. It’s just the nature of the beast.
You know I really enjoyed thinking about the minutia in the giant ant movie yesterday. Thinking about the characterizations and the movie conventions that they employed back then was the most fun thing that I have thought about in weeks. And it occurred to me that here is so much substance, so much American-ness in these old silly things from sixty, seventy years ago. And not because there’s great art on display. This is a story about giant ants. Nothing more absurd is imaginable. Nothing less important exists. And yet the people who wrote the script and acted the scenes managed to do a good job of creating this ridiculous world that they were employed to create. The guy who played the booze-soaked hobo in the hospital ward was highly entertaining. The general working with the cop to operate the bazooka for the phosphorus bombardment of the ant nest was amusing in his portrayal of upper management trying his hand at a front-line task.
Maybe that is what the future looks like. We’ll be like the medieval monks copying and illuminating fragments of the classical world to preserve something for when the rampaging vandals have run out of places to sack and burn and whoever is left sets about the hard work of rebuilding civilization from what’s left of the wreckage. So, I’ve found new direction in celebrating whatever fragments and shards of the old order strike my fancy and even any worthwhile new shoots as they present themselves. Certainly, it’s an uphill battle while the orcs are still busy burning and pillaging all around us. And from time to time, we’ll have to put down our quills and cap our inkwells and pick up a battle axe and shield to fend off the latest incursion of rampaging savages.
But there is absolutely more sense in celebrating the things that give meaning to life and to enjoy art; high or low, than there is in just bemoaning the destruction and dwelling on how low we have fallen. After all, no one threw a switch one day and ended the dark ages and began the renaissance. The knowledge was always there. It needed people who were willing to apply that knowledge. It needed human ingenuity and imagination and a little breathing space between them and the nearest barbarians.
So don’t be surprised if I sound a little happier. Sure, the orcs may win this war. Our whole civilization may come crashing down in an orgy of death and darkness. We may be on the cusp of a millennium of ignorance and misery. But as Hurin said in the Silmarillion, “ Aurë entuluva!”, “Day shall come again.” It seems inevitable that human intelligence will persevere over entropy and stupidity. There is in life that which strives against chaos. I’ll bet on us.
Now, let’s take another look at that giant ant movie. Have you ever noticed how annoying the girl scientist gets when she’s down in the ant nursery in New Mexico? She starts yelling at her colleagues, “Burn it! Burn it all!”
I mean who the hell is she? Especially since Ben and Bob are going to have to haul her fat butt up several steep inclines by rope to get her out of that cyanide laden death trap. It’s not like she has the upper body strength to get herself out. She could at least act a little more polite. An incipient girl-boss even back then. Ah well.