Apocalypse Dreams (Part 4)
The dreams of apocalypse don’t explicitly feature the end of the world and I don’t believe they are borne of a serious fear of global annihilation. I’m keenly aware of the many potential eschatological scenarios that might befall us but I maintain a cowardly optimism that amounts to almost total psychological avoidance.
I could never understand Heidegger’s ‘being-towards-death’; the assertion that the proper approach to an Existentialist life lived in ‘good faith’ is to live it towards death, in the shadow of it, with complete contented awareness of its inextricable relationship to life. That life implies death is a philosophical platitude; it is not a matter of metaphysical certainty, just a contingency of extant biology. What is ‘human’ is not an eternal mode of being – a la Dasein – but a mutable fabric of diachronic biological and socio-political facts.
This abstract thinking allows me a small sliver of redemptive doubt regarding the fate of humanity, and an even smaller one about my own (virtually) inevitable demise. Of course, the end of the human race is vastly different to one’s own death, and it’s not at all about its cosmic significance: one’s own death could not fail to be more significant to oneself, and the human race’s importance is equally reliant on the perspective of interested parties (i.e. the collective ego). In space, no-one can hear the entire human race scream.
Instead, these ‘apocalyptic’ dreams carry within them the implication that vast, uncontrollable events, on the scale of the sublime, are unfolding. The promise of annihilation is merely a subsection of that greater menace: brute action, mindless occurrence, the Godless Universe.
Creationists face the Uncanny appearance of design in our world with the appropriate trembling, but they resolve it with the myth of comforting sentience: a mind that can be pleaded with, reasoned with and understood. In these dreams, the same insentience possessed by tree roots is ascribed to human society, and it is made clear that we can no more control the direction of global policy, macroeconomics or technological change than we can implore God to redeem sinners, relieve suffering or prevent the Sun from exploding.
This, I believe, is the significance of aeroplanes, monolithic towers and traffic jams. In my dreams they appear as un-designed as a snail’s shell and as alien as vegetation. They are archetypal symbols of the city – the most concentrated evidence of human creation – but they appear as arbitrary carbuncles; sinister remnants of an uncaused process. This is not a fear of chaos, by the way – quite the opposite. It is the uneasy observation of order without orchestration. Sometimes the towers and the aeroplanes carry the whiff of sentience: a desperate illusion, seeking minds in the objects themselves in the absence of a conscious creator.
It’s a solipsistic universe too. My fellow humans, en masse, appear mindless. My detachment is total, finding no solace in familiar locations (just the uneasiness of confrontation with distorted realities) and finding only fear in the presence of man-made objects. What a strange mess these cities are, the planes are escaping.
The common structure of these dreams is the juxtaposition of a very present, forceful occurrence (explosions, crashes, gunfire) with a distant, slow and quiet menace. This ‘thing’ can’t be called an event, it is too intangible and indistinct – it is an atmosphere. It’s a gestalt that’s caused by the re-presentation of familiar things; the most familiar and human things possible (cities, cars, buildings) become organic and unexplained (a touch of the Nausea).
The menace is in the distance, at the edges, glimpsed with the mind’s eye. It is too terrible to grasp in toto, but the very elusiveness of its scale engenders this terror. It is a mutable and intangible situation that coalesces and garners enough gravity to form a semi-tangible thing – we might wonder whether it’s a plague or a war but, really, its very inability to be grasped is the totality of its content.
The blast that happens right in front of me is the force of banal reality – it serves to remind me of the interplay between those distant energies and the very tangible actuality of falling buildings, authentic pain, real death. These two dramas resemble the constant oscillation between prizing hedonism/nihilism (there’s panic outside, we’ll stay here and eat) and recognising the occasional need to grope for meaning (staring at the rubble).
Nothing really matters because we’re all going to die, but art is important because it helps us to understand. Lumbering global crises suffer personal tragedies, and the inhumanity of the mindless Universe implicates me in its cold unfolding.