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Letter from the Editor
In the November/December 2006 issue of Books & Culture (a little short of ten years ago), I wrote about "apocalyptic thinking." Something in the air in 2016 made me think about that piece. It seems worth fishing out from the vault, with a few comments added.
No, not Apocalypto, Mel Gibson's Mayan epic. I'm not a Gibson fan. Never saw The Passion of the Christ, and don't plan on seeing his latest either. Apocalypso is a different film—one that you won't find at the Cineplex, alas, since it exists only in my mind, where it has gestated for all of several days now.
The film holds two truths in tension. On the one hand, it's true that apocalyptic thinking often goes off the rails, on scales ranging from the fate of the two-party system in American politics (on Planet Krugman, there has been a lot of huffing and puffing about a Republican Reich, "one-party" rule such as our nation has never before seen) to the Last Judgment (fervent believers keep saying that the Second Coming is imminent, but the world totters on, century after century). So the film starts by establishing the pervasiveness of apocalyptic thinking in many different settings, with some captured footage (à la Michael Moore) mixed in. At the outset, such juxtapositions may give the impression that the point is merely to debunk. The radical imam who rants in Arabic about the imminent downfall of the United States and the extermination of the Jews (we'll be reading subtitles) and the woman who warns about the fate of songbirds will appear along with loony survivalists, right-wing preachers, and tenured professors such as I encountered last year at AAR/SBL in Philadelphia, who deplored America's descent into fascism while they waited in line at Starbucks.
On the other hand, apocalypses large and small are hardly limited to the fevered imagination of doomsayers. Languages die. Species become extinct. Histories are erased. Men, women, and children are ruthlessly taken into servitude, ...