“Apocalypse is a sense of time”, writes the artist and writer Rosa Aiello: “an end-point at which something is revealed.”
In 557, ten years after the first plague pandemic—Justinian’s Plague—wiped out 40% of Constantinople’s population, an earthquake destroyed much of the city, including the Hagia Sofia, then only 20-odd years old. Self-appointed Christian prophets popped up everywhere, warning that the End was Nigh. Many of the city’s citizens suddenly changed their ways, conducting more honest business and giving money to the church. This sudden change in people’s behaviour did not go unnoticed, and has long since become a mode of control, but also a conceptual framework within which humans have learned to, in the words of medieval scholar James Palmer, conceptualise, stimulate, and direct change. Apocalypticism, writes Palmer, is about humans needing an ending. But apocalypticism is a 19th century concept. In the Middle Ages, the word apocalypse in a general sense referred to “insight, vision, hallucination.” An uncovering, not an ending.
Back in December 2012, on the eve of the Mayan Codex Apocalypse, thousands of people gathered on top of a sacred mountain village in the French Pyrenées called Bugarach, awaiting salvation from the Rapture by an alien civilization. The mountain is steeped in mythology: geologically, its summit is older than its base. Cathars were massacred here, and the mountain’s caves are thought to be entry-points to a mystical subterranean civilisation known as Agartha. Later, Bugarach became the inspiration for Jules Vernes’ Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which in turn was a central inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s “first contact” classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
This was the pretense for a lecture I gave in Marseille, France, a few weeks prior. If apocalypse means revelation, an uncovering, then what if we are in fact living through multiple apocalypses, over and over (as Franny Choi writes of in her poem, The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On)? What if we aren’t the protagonists of our own stories, but its background actors running amok, being eaten by zombies and washed away by tidal waves? And, as medieval scholars have often asked, why do we humans need an ending so badly, but can never imagine ourselves ending?
This special 20th episode of Something Like will explore Endzeitfragmente (to borrow a term from the Sequentia album of the same name): “End Times” music. This is music about endings, and music made for and about the (primarily Judeo-Christian notion of) apocalypse, from the 9th to the 21st centuries. How better to mark an milestone of sorts—a bend in the road— than to ruminate on how the journey might one day end—only to begin again?
We’ll observe the term as Octavia Butler understood it: perhaps the apocalypse is not a singular event, but multitudinous, scattershot, unfolding over a series of seemingly unrelated and yet certainly interconnected climatic, political, economic, and social events. So apocalyptic events are in fact mere moments, but revelatory ones. Revelations of precarity or mortality. In recent years, as the world’s politicians have had to look the facts of climate change in the face and stare down the 2-degree celsius hourglass, they’re also revelations of a surfeit or dearth of agency: of greed and complicity so broad, so terribly normal, that its sudden lack is only met with slack jawed despair. Then what?
Here’s Rosa again:
“Apocalypse is a sense of place. Here we reached the end some time ago, we are past disaster and have survived, wiser, but cut off from the pre-apocalyptic world. Or was it because we had always been cut off—we had used the same images, however distorted, had suffered the same illnesses of body, society, and environment but couldn’t leave, couldn’t circulate as the symbols and commodities did—that our ending came first, discontinuous with and nonetheless a version of the ending they will all face soon.”
- As always Something Like’s intro jingle music comes courtesy of Roger 3000
- The music behind my voice in this episode is from David Hopkins’ Gaia, 1987
- You can read Franny Choi’s The World Keeps Ending, And the World Goes On here
- Check out Anchoress’ new album, out this week, here.
- Check out Bitsy Knox & Roger 3000’s new single Extinction Piece, here: https://tundrarecords.bandcamp.com/album/extinction-piece (All proceeds go to the WWF).
- Erratum: in the show I say that the earthquake in Constantinople happened in 556, but it’s 557. I also mis-quoted the title of Franny Choi’s poem in the show. A weird momentary lapse in critical thinking while recording. Sorry!
Mark Pritchard feat. The Space Lady, S.O.S.
Joan Armitrading, Save Me
The Cambridge Singers, Libera Nos, Salva Nos
Alanis Obamsawin, Of the Earth and of the Sea
Anne Waldman, Guro Moe, Deb Googe, Håvard Skaset, Ambrose Bye, Devin Brahja Waldman, Extinction Aria Part II
Bitsy Knox & Roger 3000, Extinction Piece
Franny Choi, The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On
Sequentia / Germany Anon. 9th cent. Adducentur
Duval Timothy, Tdagb
Adult Fantasies, Parsi
DJ Richard, Dissolving World
Natalie Mariko, Antichrist
Anchoress, Anxious Clown
Lyu-Hongjun, (劉宏軍) フルスーの景
Shelley, Reproduction is Pollution
Jacqueline Humbert & David Rosenboom, How Much Better if Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims (Section VIII, excerpt)
Masami Tsuchiya, Fear for the Future
IAMDDB, End of the World
Dijvan Gasparyan, I Will Not Be Sad in This World