I’m pretty sure last weekend I was wearing little more than a pair of shorts in the sunshine, then mid-week I was chilly in three layers of clothes as it poured down, and now it’s warm, rainy, humid and who knows what’s going on?! Sorry, I’m just trying to keep my already feeble small-talk muscles functioning for when I can, one day, meet people again.
Here are three things that have forged new connections between my brain’s neurons this week:
In my Terra Ignota science fiction novels I mention that the people in my 25th century society debate whether World War I ended in 1945 or 1989, and it always blows readers’ minds for a few seconds, and then follows the reflection: yeah, I could see WWI and WWII being considered one thing, like the Wars of the Roses. My first exposure to the way this makes your brain go whfoooo was as a kid and hearing Eugen Weber provocatively call WWI and WWII “The Second Thirty Years War”. Feels weird, right? Weird-powerful.
I love that. The Long World War I. I like looks back from an imagined distant future at our time, whose every detailed wrinkle we’re aware of, but smoothed out by the temporal distance. However dramatic this week or year feels we’re not necessarily more important than any previous or subsequent century.
It reminds me of Michael Moorcock’s excellent The Dancers at the End of Time, based at the most distant future point, whose characters refer to our time – in fact, everything from the very first humans until some unspecified future-to-us time – as the Dawn Age: there’s so, so much yet to come between us and them. There’s also a broad categorisation of past-to-them humans into, “Neanderthal Man, Piltdown Man, Religious Man and Scientific Man and there were, of course, many sub-divisions.” (An Alien Heat, p.71.)
I thought they also alluded to our time as “the Political Age,” one age among many others, but maybe I was thinking of a different Moorcock book, A Cure for Cancer, which does have such references: “I don’t fancy this. It’s like something out of the political age.” (p.53); and, “You might just as well be in the political age.” (p.199)
Anyway. Has World War I even finished yet? Does its end blend seamlessly into the start of the The Jackpot?
An Indian named Cowboy once told a lecture hall full of Frenchmen that us Natives are a postapocalyptic people. … Although I had never heard it articulated the way Cowboy expressed it, I already knew that we are a postapocalyptic people.
Of course! I feel stupid for having previously thought of “the apocalypse” as only an imagined, possible, future event, after which we maybe live a grim The Road-like existence. But I would think that, because I’m a white, 21st-century, Briton – if we’ve ever suffered from an apocalypse (the Black Death?) we’ve long since recovered. I don’t feel post-apocalyptic about the Plague.
Obviously, I’m aware that other peoples have suffered and even been wiped out entirely but I don’t think I’d ever linked the word “apocalypse” and thus “post-apocalyptic” to things like the wiping out of aboriginal peoples, or the Holocaust. I had a very narrow definition. And once I do that I can imagine that the early 21st century – which for me is, relatively, fine (yes, despite all this) and therefore pre-apocalyptic – can, at the same time, be a post-apocalyptic world for those like Cowboy, Julian Brave NoiseCat, their people and others. A society can contain post-apocalyptic dystopias for some, while for others it’s just fine.
§ Third, the pulling down of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol. Previously, while thinking the monuments of the most terrible “great men” (like Rhodes) should probably go, I didn’t have any wider thoughts about it. In general I’m often wary of things being torn down because, for example, so often decent buildings are destroyed only to be replaced with something worse.
Seeing Colston’s statue torn down was an amazing moment that made me reconsider all statues. I realised I’d kind of accepted them all as a given. They’ve always been there, part of the landscape, the environment we live in, for good or ill. I suddenly realised, “Oh! They don’t have to be there!”
It reminds me of, back in the past when I was studying the future, one thought exercise would be to take a simple statement about a possible future and imagine what that world was like. They weren’t always better worlds: “Imagine a world in which rape is legal,” for example, which could lead you to describe a horror like The Handmaid’s Tale. But I got a flash of envisioning a different world when I considered, “imagine a world in which all statues are replaced”. It’s not the most radical of prompts but it still felt exciting. All this could be different, better, more equal.
Having previously, unthinkingly, accepted that most of those statues of slavers, imperialists, generals, monarchs, and politicians are part of the landscape it was so freeing to realise they don’t have to be there. Just because some people at some point in the past thought a person was worth putting on a pedestal, that’s no reason why we, now, have to do so. We accept people in other places – Iraq, Eastern Europe, etc. – tearing down statues from their past, so why not here? Imagine a world in which the only statues are of people who have selflessly improved the lives of others.
§ I was delightfully surprised twice by technology this week, which I mention purely because such experiences are unusual:
I rarely use Apple Maps but I opened it on my iPhone this week and it indicated where I’d parked the car three days ago. It was only a few metres away, in the drive, but still. That felt like unexpected magic.
The other day I stumbled slightly going up the stairs, no big deal, and I carried on. A few seconds later my watch vibrated and asked if I’d had a fall, was I OK, and did it need me to call the emergency services? No, but thank you for asking! I’d forgotten it could do that and had never had it happen before. It felt nice.
§ We watched season one of The Tunnel this week, the British-French adaptation of The Bridge. Thankfully my memory is terrible so, despite having watched The Bridge a few years ago, I had no idea what was going to happen. It was good and, inevitably, often grim. The Kent/Nord-Pas-de-Calais backgrounds didn’t seem as interesting as the Malmö/Copenhagen version but maybe they’re just more familiar. The location scouts did find some good locations though. I liked Clémence Poésy’s take on Saga Norén, Elise Wassermann, and Stephen Dillane’s casual Karl Roebuck.
§ That’s all. If imagining a better world feels a bit much, maybe just start with trying to imagine a better afternoon?