Thursday, January 24, 2008

Only the End of the World Again

Neil Gaiman wrote a short story once upon a time entitled "Only the End of the World Again." [Neil is on my mind a lot these days, since I've been working for months--in 'spare time' stolen mostly from what would otherwise be family time, and often on mornings before I turn to whatever novel I'm writing--on a book that was originally titled The Neil Gaiman Companion. The title of the book, which I've written with my friends Hank Wagner and Steve Bissette, is apparently changing, but I'm waiting for final confirmation of the new title.]

In any case, this post has nothing to do with Neil, really, except that rereading a lot of his work in the past nine months has given me a new appreciation for exactly how remarkable his achievements truly are. I particularly love his short stories and the magnum opus that is The Sandman. I read Sandman in single issues when it was first published, and if you did the same I urge you to start again, reading the series in its current graphic novel format. The whole truly is far greater than the sum of its parts. It's a work unequaled in comics, either before or since.

But I digress. For some reason this post, which is not about Neil Gaiman, continues to insist upon making itself about Neil Gaiman.

So I'll get to the point, and the reference to "Only the End of the World Again." The title is almost a sigh, a sort of surrender to the constant state of impending doom that humanity has existed in since the beginning of time, really. I think, also, of one of my favorite lines from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "If the apocalypse comes, beep me." [Back when people carried such things as beepers. Weird to think how fast they came and went.]

So, the end of the world. I'm not talking about Global Climate Change, though its threat is imminent. Rather, I'm talking about the general state of human society. Sometimes it depresses the hell out of me to think about the way so many seem to have surrendered to the opinion that the human race is atrophying from lack of conscience, that entropy has truly taken hold, and the world is winding down.

Yet, as disheartening and disconcerting as all of that is...it's nothing new.

Chinua Achebe wrote the great THINGS FALL APART in 1958.

But let's go a little further back than that, to a wonderful quote I found tonight while researching a future project. In the sixth century, the poet Theognis wrote:
"Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;the others have left and gone to Olympus. Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth. Men’s judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone revere the immortal gods; the race of pious men has perished and men no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety."

Damn, does that sound on target or what? Trust and restraint are gone. Judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted! For all of the articles and books and pundits pointing out the degradation of literacy and education (which troubles me deeply) and the paucity of moral virtue in society, is it only ironic or actually deeply twisted that I take immense comfort and reassurance from the words of Theognis?

Even then, the only thing that Greek poet felt humanity had left to cling to was hope for the future.

Which, fittingly, brings me back around to Mr. Gaiman. In the first volume of Sandman, Morpheus faces off against the demon Choronzon in a contest of concepts. Smugly, Choronzon believes that when he says "I am entropy," the Dream King will have nothing to parry his attack. But that's when Morpheus (and Gaiman, and humanity) pulls out his trump card. "What will you be?" the demon asks. And the Sandman says, "I am hope."

I'm terrified on a daily basis by the apathy of people who could make a difference, if only they cared to. I do believe that human society is degrading, and as a result, entropy is taking hold both of world culture and of the planet, and that we are all Nero, fiddling while Rome burns.

And yet, like Gaiman and Morpheus, and Chinua Achebe and Theognis, I have hope.

After all, it's only the end of the world again.

3 Comments:

Blogger Little Willow said...

Hope is so important.

9:32 PM  
Anonymous ark said...

I, too, get depressed over the state of things writ large. Sometimes the human microcosms get to me, too.

I recently lost my longtime companion, who's a cat. Knowing him as I did, I was often reminded of what a superior species he belongs to. Read: humans can be quite a shitty lot at times.

What saves me from lapsing into a shallow, pessimistic misanthropy? Well, aside from the periodic 'kindness of strangers' -- and friends -- artistic creations help.

Neil Gaiman has (unwittingly) helped me get through a few dark days with his celebrations of life and human existence.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Hageltoast said...

Neil Gaiman is a writer I only came to a coupleof years ago, which is odd since i loved good omens for years and was reading other comics whilst missing sandman, regardless I amnow totally hooked.
I'll spare you my grumblings about society as a whole.

10:13 AM  

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