I'm running into a little problem here.
This book is eighty-five chapters long. It might be too interesting for me to go slowly enough to encapsulate the chapters one by one. That's eighty five blog posts. If I'm going to make it all the way to Emperor Constantine, I might have to pick up the pace a bit. I fear it's too good of a book to read that slowly. We'll see.
But today's is a one-to-one ratio, chapter to blog post, because Chapter Two, "The Earliest Story," feels particularly relevant.
"The Earliest Story," so says Susie, the story of the Universal Flood.
I thought that Chapter Two was going to be specific to Sumer (Susie warned, at the conclusion of Chapter One, that "catastrophe struck" after a couple thousand years of uneventful Kingship). But the chapter invoked the existence of some kind of flood parable in geographically diverse ancient cultures, and in broadening the phenomenon away from just one single, puny Great Flood, she really gets you thinking about the pervasive narrative of a single, catastrophic world-cleansing event.
Consequently, it's likely that some of these flood stories do in fact stem from the same historical event: many historians believe, for example, that the flood recorded in Sumer is probably the same as in Genesis. Most of us are familiar with what happened with Noah, but we can rest assured that the Great Flood, as it was experienced by the Ancient Sumerians, was also a major bummer:
the gods of the abyss rose up
the dams of the waters beneath were thrown down
the seven judges of hell lit the land with their torches
daylight became night,
the land was smashed as a cup
water poured over the people as the tides of battle.
And though nineteenth century geologists, buoyed not only by Genesis but Universal Flood accounts from diverse ancient cultures, made it a habit of looking for evidence of single inundating event, we now know it's philosophically (and geologically) kaput to do so. But it's easy to see why they did so: the Mixtecs tell the same story as Genesis, Sumer, and ancient Chinese farmers.
Though in any of those cases it was technically incorrect--an unsubstantiated claim--for any ancient records-keepers to inscribe in stone, "...and then, the WHOLE WORLD, the WHOLE WIDE WORLD...FLOODED! COMPLETELY! All of it.", these floods weren't fake news. The Sumer/Genesis flood, a couple of very smart geologists believe, wasn't so much a flood as it was "a permanent inundation, "a flood that never subsided...[that] expelled a people from their former homeland and forced them to find a new place to live."" The alleged cause: the busting open of the Bosphorus Strait, then a land plug (let's call it an isthmus...I love that word), that gushed the Black Sea, swollen with glacial melt from the end of the Ice Age, out across the land, displacing tons of people.
But this isn't really the meat of the chapter for me, and it isn't why it feels topical. To me. I diverge from Susie a bit...she talks about flood-angst, and water-fear, as being a persistent, species-wide narrative that we have. She cites our obsession with the Titanic. And, indeed: nary a year goes by in which we don't see some kind of Disaster Movie in which a flood plays a significant, horrible role (I watched San Andreas on a plane a year or so ago...my god, I've never seen The Rock so focused). But even with Houston, Irma, Maria...it's not the form of the catastrophe that feels like the central topical issue. It's just catastrophe. The more persistent and universal species theme, according to me, is End Of The World Angst.
This just in from last night, as told by my dream diary:
"In dream last night San Francisco from across the bay w/ mushroom cloud billowing upwards, matched the color, gleaming white city no more. Was on a boat. Frantically getting things packed into my bags--was surprised by the accuracy of my bags: my orange backpack, my yellow one, the small canvas duffel. I had too much stuff. I wanted to take more water. What do you pack for the Apocalypse?"
Susie writes, at Chapter Two's end, that when the floodwaters receded, they left behind a world "redder in tooth and claw." She writes:
"For as long as man has grown grain, he has tried to recapture, if only temporarily, the rosier and kinder world that can no longer be found on a map."
I get it, but I think it's just as tempting to infer that there was an idyllic time before, a sort of worry-free Eden, as it is tempting to claim, in contemporary times, "it was then, at this point, that we started getting stressed about the end of the world."
In his documentary HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis narrates, at the beginning of the section entitled "America at the End of the Twentieth Century":
"...and in America, all optimistic visions of the future had also disappeared. Instead, everyone in society, not just the politicians...the scientists, the journalists, and all kinds of experts, had begun to focus on the dangers that might be in the future. This in turn created a pessimistic mood, and then began to spread out from the rational technocratic world and infect the whole of the country."
And lo, just before he begins a montage of all the film scenes (from before September 11th) in which buildings are being blown up by aliens/asteroids/walls of fire/tsunamis/Godzilla (cue it to 1:35:00...there were a bunch), Curtis informs us that this was the point at which "everyone became possessed by dark forebodings."
I think that whether it's claiming that THIS is The Flood That Ends And Rebirths The World (in Ancient Sumer) or Adam Curtis (in very smart, very artful, and very reductive fashion) calling the ball on when our "dark forebodings" of contemporary catastrophe began, you can link the statement's motivation to a sort of solipsism of the present. I think that Haruki Murakami says it more accurately in 1Q84, and that's what I'll end with:
Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.