Peripatetic. Orientation. Discourse.
In his 1967 book The Sense of an Ending, Frank Kermode writes: “Apocalypse and the related themes are strikingly long-lived; and that is the first thing you can say about them.”
You wouldn’t know this. You want to play a videogame, and you want to save the world. You think stories about saving the world can save the world. That there is a “right track,” and that our stories have strayed. Is this what revolution looks like when videogames have radicalized you? The prolonged gasps of history unending, the maintenance of a status quo that has marched deathwards thus far? Is there no future worth imagining beyond this one? What would you write in the first chapter of a new history?
In our contemporary storytelling tradition, the flood is the ur-apocalypse, first appearing as violent creation myths for how the world was given its current form – because the apocalypse is not about destruction, but change. The worlds that Ziusudra, Utnapishtim, Manu and Noah inherit all look familiar to those originally reading their stories. But what of the flooded? The perspectives of those judged by some higher power immoral, bothersome, over. What does the beauty of a world born anew look like from the depths?
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“The second,” Kermode writes, “is that they change.”
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Rooted in the Afrofuturist myth of ‘90s electronic duo Drexciya, clipping’s “The Deep” illustrates a utopic, underwater Atlantic city built by the children of drowned African slave women. The brief history of the oasis is interrupted when the ‘two legs’ of our modern-day bring war to the city in search of oil beneath the floor, prompting the merpeople to incite a great flood – rendered in 20 seconds of harsh static noise – that, besides causing immense destruction, leaves the world inhospitable to surface dwellers.
Which is one way to imagine an end to the colonial order.
Through their use of second person narration, clipping. maintains a sort of ambivalence in conversation with their abolitionist imagination. Because yes, the descendants of slaves and survivors of colonialism the world over will too drown, but the imagination of a perfect revolution does not stop the revolution. The pursuit of nonviolence is explicitly condemned throughout the trio’s discography, a refutation of imposed Christian values on a liberatory movement.
In “Blood of the Fang,” Diggs invokes “Queen Angela,” who, “done told y’all, ‘Grasp at the root’/So what y’all talkin’ ’bout – ’Hands up, don’t shoot?’” Throughout the song Diggs evokes the figure of a Black messiah alongside Christian imagery, as if to suggest that the eucharist is Black history. As, “Brother Malcom done told y’all, ‘By any means’/So what y’all talkin’ ‘bout – ’All on the same team?’” In rejecting nonviolent narratives of revolution, Diggs refigures Christian imagery against oppressors, as he does in “The Deep” turning the Biblical flood onto the descendants of Christian slavers.
This desire for the end, the apocalypse and what comes after it, is as old as literature. Whereas revolution shares its origins with cyclicality, going back, reordering society from the ground up, apocalypse suggests unrecognizable creation moving forward. The Book of Revelation imagined both the collapse of what were unshakable systems – the Roman Empire and its persecution of a religious minority – as well as the construction of a new utopia. It connected “apokalypsis,” meaning “unveiling” or “revelation,” with the end of the world as we know it.
When we hope for apocalypse, we hope to write a new chapter unburdened by history. But such change can look like destruction when the weight of your home rests on the backs that built it, keeping the movement inert. Delaying apocalypse then reflects one’s position in the current world. To imagine the now as savable, to envision the unfamiliar as loss, to romanticize playing environmental terrorists in ‘90s JRPGs belies a material reality. When, as Solnit writes, “even nostalgia and homesickness are privileges not granted to everyone,” to save the world is only to prolong its violent ordering. The apocalypse, in that biblical, eschatological sense, is violent only when you have power in this world but not the next.
Autumn Wright is an essayist. They do criticism on games and other media. Find their latest writing at @TheAutumnWright.