Sunday, July 31, 2022

Peter and the Basilisk

Samuel Colman, The Edge of Doom (1836–38)

  Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing
Into the wind's tail, where the fog cowers?
We cannot think of a time that is oceanless
Or of an ocean not littered with wastage
Or of a future that is not liable
Like the past, to have no destination.

  —T.S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages" (1943)

The United States' Evangelical Christians are a cohort in decline, and only the kookiest of them habitually scrutinize Israeli politics for signals of the Rapture. The vulgar fashionability of Nostradamus peaked in the 1990s, and at this point we're all fairly certain the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar did not, in fact, apprise us of the Earth's expiration date and/or the dawn of The New Age. 

And yet, prophecy has not been discredited and is far from dead. Chiliasm and apocalypticism are a pair of bats too stubbornly lodged in the belfry of Western consciousness to be shooed out by a sequence of ideological paradigm shifts. We can't seem to let go of the idea that history must arrive at a culmination and we can know in advance what it is. All that's changed are the methods of augury and our relation to whatever sort of future we suppose is preordained.