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The Cultural Sounds of Apocalypse

Sounds of Apocalypse, Part Two


“The Walls of Jericho Fall Down” by Gustave Doré

This is Part Two of contributor Dominik Irtenkauf’s four-part essay “Sounds of Apocalypse.” Before reading it you may want to read Part One, “Roar of Creation and Destruction,” in which Dominik lays the explanatory groundwork for the theme he is pursuing.

The word “apocalypse” derives from the Ancient Greek language and originally meant “the unveiling of secrets.” But since the canonical Christian document by St. John refers to this revealing as the overture to the end of the world as we know it, the idea of the apocalypse became colloquially linked to this very idea: the end of the world. Human beings are able to predict events to a certain degree, and even more, they can imagine worlds and states they haven’t experienced before. However, the mash-up network of fiction and truth, real experiences and second-hand representations (either in personal experience, films, or books), doesn’t really entail different levels of fear, because fear erodes any distinguishable borders. It’s the sheer will to survive which remains intact.

Augmenting this with a term from Georges Bataille, we see that we can almost reach the reality of imaginary events by means of “inner experience”:

I call experience a voyage to the end of the possible of man. Anyone may not embark on this voyage but if he does embark on it, this supposes the negation of the authorities, the existing values which limit the possible. By the virtue of the fact that it is negation of other values, other authorities, experience, having a positive existence, becomes itself value and authority. (Bataille, p.  7)

So can we experience the apocalypse as living beings simply by imagination? The cultural products of the apocalypse meme tell us that it is very possible. Read the rest of this entry

Sounds of Apocalypse, Part One: Roar of Creation and Destruction

"Death on a Pale Horse" by Benjamin West [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Death on a Pale Horse” by Benjamin West [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

EDITOR’S NOTE: With this post we welcome a new contributing writer to the Teem. Dominik Irtenkauf is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction dealing with art, mythology, cultural philosophy, media theory, the occult, and avant-garde music. He also writes about the boundaries between art and science, and recently he has been combining his literary and documentary writing. He has published a number of books in German; for some of his writing in English, see the blog Bergmetal under the keyword “Stig Olsdal.” Dominik studied German philology, philosophy, and comparative literature in Münster. In 2007 he spent three months in Georgia on a Musa Fellowship for Literature from the country’s Ministry of Education and Science.

In this article — which is the first installment of a four-part piece — he combines all of these interests to present a reflection and meditation on an often overlooked aspect of cosmic creation and destruction.

* * *

In mythic tales, the world often comes into being by noise. For example, in Enuma Elish, the Babylonian Genesis, the younger gods, begat by Apsû and his wife Tiâmat, engage in an incessant racket, and Apsû complains:

Their way has become painful to me,
By day I cannot rest, by night I cannot sleep;
I will destroy them and put an end to their way,
That silence be established, and then let us sleep!

The resulting war among the gods results in the creation of the world order that we know today, as the younger gods defeat their parents and use the dismembered corpse of Tiâmat to create the cosmos and the blood of Apsû to create the human race.

Other “noisy” creation stories include the Ancient Vedic traditions, where the world comes into being by the boom and quake of a “Great Breath,” and the apocryphal “Eighth Book of Moses” (also known as the “Holy Book of Moses” or “Hidden Sacred Book of Moses”), written by a Hellenistic Egyptian Jew and teaching that there have been seven “laughs” of God that created the forces in the universe. Obviously, the idea of noise at the world’s origin is one with a long, and in fact an ancient, pedigree.

If we think about the matter long enough, it gives rise to an obvious question: if the world as we know it came into being because of noise, then will it end with noise as well? And when that end arrives, what exactly will be the sound that accompanies the collapse? Will it be music? Will it merely be some tacky, meaningless noise in the background? Will it be a dramatic, crashing wall of inconceivable resonance?

Let me quote from Stuart Sim’s Manifesto for Silence:

Noise, noise everywhere indeed, as the headline had it: above the earth, below the sea. No doubt one day science will be able to determine if there are any significant effects on wildlife from such pollution, but whether anything can be done about it by that stage is another question entirely. There are such things as “tipping points,” as we are beginning to realize very belatedly with the phenomenon of global warming: damage cannot always be repaired, nor processes reversed. (pp. 28-29)

So the question becomes not just whether the world will end in noise but whether noise itself might bring about the end of the world. Have we already crossed the point of no return? Could the accumulation of noise become one of the causes of the downfall of our civilization? Read the rest of this entry