Thanks are due to President Obama for articulating the current End of Days scenario so clearly:
“The grim alternative… more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise,”
He said it is our “job,” our “task” to avert it. Duty, I guess. For the children…of our children. Sounds suspiciously like another prediction of which I am very fond:
We must arm ourselves with all the material and spiritual forces at our disposal … or else our culture is doomed to destruction. Extrapolation from our present condition … yields a vision of busting sewer mains and all waters of the world made as wormwood, unfit to drink. Mankind will be reduced to a primitive state of disunity, neighbor isolated from neighbor by vast surging cataracts of fluid, while the monument of our era’s accomplishments will gradually be submerged beneath festering pools of stagnant runoff. . . Men in their frenzy of despair and disbelief will turn the evil upon themselves, building houses at the bottom of hills, in marshes, and along oozing gulleys, while the Few Who Know will be the object of arrogant derision. And it is the folly of human inaction which will bring down on us this recapitulation of the Flood.*
*Hilton S. Korngold, “Toward an Interpretation of the Drainage,” Journal of Historicist Philosophy, 98 (October, 1972): 302 – 398.
More severe storms… Not much evidence of that. Climate scientists are very hesitant to say that a storm or set of storms can be attributed to climate changes, such as they are. We might have more severe storms – that’s what many predict – but that remains to be seen. Of course, it assumes that all their predictions are correct.
More famine… We seem to have our hands full with famine today, and have for some years now. Any scholar of famine will tell you that their causes have much more to do with politics and infrastructure than with weather. Our record dealing with those two issues is rather poor.
More floods… Another speculation. It’s not as though we haven’t had a hard time with floods for a long time, and done precious little about it. Are we supposed to think it’s a “real” problem because climate change supposedly is involved? We report more floods now – everything is reported more – and there is more property loss because humans continue to build heavily in areas that have been and will continue to be flooded. It could get worse, yes, but it’s bad now!
New waves of refugees… You guessed it, the same response as above. If we are not moved by the plight of refugees now, why is the notion of “climate refugees” more compelling? Shouldn’t we address the problems we have now? We might foreclose the possibility of worse ones later on. For instance, if people had enough land to grow their own food on, they might actually plan for the inevitable bad years… Just a thought.
Coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise… Coastlines vanish, then reappear. They just follow you inland if the sea rises. It will be a different coastline, but that happens now, much to the dismay of the Army Corps of Engineers which spends billions of dollars trying to hold back the seas so that municipalities can make money on beach tourism and property taxes. And just how much are those seas going to rise? And how fast? Must we take as gospel the most extreme projection, that assumes a “rapid ice-melt” of the Greenland ice sheet? How likely is that? Not very, given the recent data, but then, that’s just a bump on the road on the way to Armageddon.
Look, maybe the predictions are true, but if we are going to examine them rationally, they become less likely with each year. Would you invest your life savings on the basis of a projection for 2050 that had been shown wrong for the period 2002 – 2013?
Fritz Lang, who made that fabulous Ur-noir, M, made Metropolis (1927) as well, but until the last few years, it was never seen in its original form. The restored version, including lost footage retrieved from a full print found in Argentina, is available on Netflix, and it is glorious. A sci-fi fairy tale with ominous Art Deco sets and art production, a full-on tale from the Germanic medieval Apocalyptic tradition, and an Expressionist masterpiece, it awakens in me a deep understanding of the older name for movies, motion pictures. The images, each one, are fabulous, and they are given life through the technology of cinema.
Lang expressed distaste for his masterpiece later in his life. He felt that it was politically naïve and simplistic. His feelings may have had something to do with the fact that his collaborator on the work, his then-wife, Thea von Harbou, went on to embrace the Nazis, leading to their divorce soon after, and to his exile to Hollywood where he made several excellent film noirs, including Human Desire, Scarlett Street, The Big Heat. It’s hard for me to watch this film and not think about the conflagration to come to Germany, and Europe, ten years later.
The melodramatic plot concerns Joh Fredersen, The Master of Metropolis, the city that he built on the backs of his workers. The city is a brilliant aerial extravaganza: the workers live underground in dismal blocks of flats that look like the work of a dropout from the Bauhaus architecture school. His magnificent brain produces the ideas and directives that keep the city humming, and his every word, utterance, and gesture is attended to with slavish awe by his subordinates.
The children of the rich frolic in pleasure domes at the top of the city towers that look like something out of Hieronymous Bosch, if he had gone to Hollywood. Maria, a teacher from the worker’s world, brings some of her charges up on a field trip. One wonders what were the guards who let her in thinking? That begins the ruin of all of them.
Freder, The Master’s son, is transfixed by the sight of Maria, and decides he must go down to the depths of the worker’s city to find her. She is regarded as a spiritual leader by the workers, and restrains their violent tendencies, telling them that a Mediator will come, to join together the Head (The Master) and the The Hands (the Workers.) The allusions and similarities to New and Old Testament language and imagery are deliberate and consistent.
Freder is appalled by what he finds underground. He witnesses an explosion at the main machine that kills many workers, and he has a vision of the infernal engine as a Moloch devouring the people. From then on, he refers to his father’s city as The Tower of Babel.
He goes in search of other knowledge, and comes upon a man killing himself with the effort of manning his post. He is part of a crude feedback mechanism, and he must manually move the arms of the machine to point to the lights on the outer circle as they blink. They change often, and he is worn out with keeping up, but if he does not, disaster will ensue: He looks like a man crucified. Freder relieves him and takes his place and his worker’s clothes. He sends the man up to the city and to wait for him at a friend’s apartment, but the worker ends up spending his type at the city’s casino, a decadent fleshpot. So much for the virtuous proles!
In another part of the city, in the only building that retains a pre-modern appearance, a tall, ancient mansion, lives Rotwang, the mad scientist- inventor. It is obvious from his artificial hand that Dr. Strangelove owes something to this movie, as do so many others!
There’s a back story here: Frederson’s wife, Hel, is dead, but it seems that both Master and Madman loved her. The inventor maintains a shrine to her memory that Frederson contemplates when he pays a visit to his main technological adviser and mentor. (These images are from restored footage, and they are grainy, and cropped differently.)
Rotwang reveals that he has been developing a mechanical man to reincarnate Hel, and Frederson is horrified, but intrigued.
Knowing that his workers are being roused to rebellion by Maria, he commands Rotwang to fashion her in the image of Maria, and send her among the workers to sow chaos and discord. Instead of Maria’s message of peace and reconciliation, the mechanical-Maria will preach insurrection and violence. Joh Frederson will have a perfect excuse for retaliating brutally and teaching the proles their proper place.
Rotwang kidnaps Maria and uses her in his deranged experiment…
…which ends up being rather successful.
The transformed Maria is presented to Frederson, and he sets his awful plan in motion, not knowing that his son is in love with the real woman, and is living among the workers. The guys on the top just don’t know what’s going down…
Freder sees his father with the false Maria and is stunned and horrified. He swoons, and is put to bed, where he has an extended vision along the lines of Revelation, ending with his cry, “Death come to the city!” I have created an animated GIF of his vision, below, that you can click to activate.
Meanwhile, the false Maria carries out her mission of evil among the workers.
Talk about a femme fatale!
Roused by her calls to violence, the workers storm the engine rooms, and overcome the foreman, who occupies a rather difficult position in the class hierarchy. He is a worker, but he is at the top of the class, a sort of craft-union type, and he knows the mob is wreaking destruction on itself! He shuts the gates to hold off the mob, but The Master, with his own long game in play, orders him to raise them. He obeys, the engines are smashed, the pumps stop, and the workers city begins to flood.
The workers do an infernal dance around the smoldering ruin of the main engine, but the foreman breaks the spell, demanding of them, “Where are your children?” Indeed, they gave no thought to them as they went on their rampage, and the foreman makes clear to them their utter dependence on the machines that they have smashed. Luddite he ain’t.
The real Maria comes to the rescue, herding the children left behind to the alarm station where she is ringing the bell.
Meanwhile, the false Maria declares, “Let’s watch the city go to the devil!!” an parties with the city élite.
Like Hugo’s novel Notre dame de Paris, the center of the city, even of the godless machine-metropolis, is the cathedral. It symbolizes the mediating heart between head and hands. And as in that novel, a climactic struggle between Good and Evil takes place on the roof as Freder fights with Rotwang.
Down in the square, the foreman leads the action, roping the false Maria to a stake for burning in the good old fashioned way.
With purifying flame comes the revelation of her true nature.
Finally, Freder emerges with Maria and his father, and mediates an uneasy reconciliation between the foreman, speaking for the masses, and his father. Happy ending for ruler and ruled!
The picture is from an article in the New York Times on the havoc wrought on Nassau County’s sewage treatment plants by Hurricane Sandy. Readers of this blog who have attended to the warnings of the original Lichanos, source of my nom de plume, will not be suprised.
A few excerpts from the Times piece describing what happened when the system went down, my emphasis:
In less than 30 minutes, engines for the plant’s main pumping system were under 12 feet of water, and sewage began to back up and overflow into low-lying homes. In one low-lying neighborhood, a plume of feces and wastewater burst through the street like a geyser.
During heavy rains, there are occasional sewage leaks, particularly in low-lying areas, residents say
For the residents of Barnes Avenue in Baldwin, a low-lying stretch about three miles from the Bay Park plant, the failure during the hurricane was the culmination of their worst fears, though hardly a surprise. …After Tropical Storm Irene sent human waste splashing onto lawns and front porches last year, residents said, the county bolted manhole covers shut to prevent them from opening.
… in the probing monograph, “Towards an Interpretation of the Drainage,” . . . Hilton Korngold, describes with disturbing calm the widespread deterioration of urban drainage systems in the Western World. In this work, Korngold writes:
We must arm ourselves with all the material and spiritual forces at our disposal to ensure that this crucial epoch is one of the transcendence into unity of Drainage and Drained or else our culture is doomed to destruction. Extrapolation from our present condition along the lines of Revelation yields a vision of Busting sewer mains and all waters of the world made as wormwood, unfit to drink. Mankind would be reduced to a primitive state of disunity, neighbor isolated from neighbor by vast surging cataracts of fluid, while the monument of our era’s accomplishments would gradually be submerged beneath festering pools of stagnant runoff. In this hell on earth all laws of sense will be overturned, men will go mad for lack of water to drink, sinks and cisterns will back up onto your floor instead of efficiently disposing of your wastes, and the Power of the Plumber will be null. Men in their frenzy of despair and disbelief will turn the evil upon themselves, building houses at the bottom of hills, in marshes, and along oozing gullys, while the Few Who Know will be the object of arrogant derision. And it is the folly of human inaction which will bring down on us this recapitulation of The Flood.
One of my favorite images from The Book of Revelation, WOB for short, makes an appearance in Spencer’s Faerie Queene. The valiant knight, Redcrosse, physically weakened after drinking from a magic fountain that induces sluggishness, is morally compromised through fornication, physical or allegorical, not sure which, with the evil Duessa, a lady of all things false, who is disguised. He is then assaulted and nearly killed by a giant, Orgoglio, borne of Earth’s womb, who is stayed by Duessa’s entreaties, she desiring to keep the knight for her own pleasure. The hideous giant is much taken with Duessa, and decks her out with a seven-headed serpent that recalls the WOB, which allegorizes the Church of Rome, at least for the Protestants.
So daunted when the Geaunt saw the knight,
His heauie hand he heaued vp on hye,
And him to dust thought to haue battred quight,
Vntill Duessa loud to him gan crye;
O great Orgoglio, greatest vnder skye,
O hold thy mortall hand for Ladies sake,
Hold for my sake, and do him not to dye,
But vanquisht thine eternall bondslaue make,
And me thy worthy meed vnto thy Leman take.
He hearkned, and did stay from further harmes,
To gayne so goodly guerdon, as she spake:
So willingly she came into his armes,
Who her as willingly to grace did take,
And was possessed of his new found make.
Then vp he tooke the slombred sencelesse corse,
And ere he could out of his swowne awake,
Him to his castle brought with hastie forse,
And in a Dongeon deepe him threw without remorse.
From that day forth Duessa was his deare,
And highly honourd in his haughtie eye,
He gaue her gold and purple pall to weare,
And triple crowne set on her head full hye,
And her endowd with royall maiestye:
Then for to make her dreaded more of men,
And peoples harts with awfull terrour tye,
A monstrous beast ybred in filthy fen
He chose, which he had kept long time in darksome den.
Such one it was, as that renowmed Snake
Which great Alcides in Stremona slew,
Long fostred in the filth of Lerna lake,
Whose many heads out budding euer new,
Did breed him endlesse labour to subdew:
But this same Monster much more vgly was;
For seuen great heads out of his body grew,
An yron brest, and backe of scaly bras,
And all embrewd in bloud, his eyes did shine as glas.
His tayle was stretched out in wondrous length,
That to the house of heauenly gods it raught,
And with extorted powre, and borrow’d strength,
The euer-burning lamps from thence it braught,
And prowdly threw to ground, as things of naught;
And vnderneath his filthy feet did tread
The sacred things, and holy heasts foretaught.
Vpon this dreadfull Beast with seuenfold head
He set the false Duessa, for more aw and dread.
Yep, that’s what the article was called! Click on the link to read it!
See what my new reproduction of the illustrations from Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible has to offer!
- Apocalyptic rhetoric – in this case, the real deal, the Book of Revelation
- Reptiles – here we have the Beast from the Pit looking like a Komodo Dragon
- Architecture – John measures the heavenly temple
- No-holds-barred satire – The lizard wears the Pope’s hat!
- Bob Dylan? – Whoa, two witnesses with tongues of fire. Swear that’s in one of his songs somewhere!
[Feb. 13] Could it be that this dragon image from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili could be the source of the iconography in the image at the head of this post? A dragon/lizard in the cathedral/temple? How odd that would be as a source of Protestant anti-papal graphics!