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Post-America II - The Post Post- Society

Stirling Newberry's picture

This is an age of post-. We talk of ourselves in terms of our weights from the past, and in terms that show we are not really after a cataclysmic change, but, instead, before one. People look back most when there is a large stretch of years that seem to imply an order to the world, and a stability. Our present is defined not by what we hope for, but by how we justify a position of wealth and privilege which we are no longer earning, but are determined to keep. At the same time, what we are post- is a rent, and the burden of that rent is strangling us, as a polity, as a society, as a country, and as humanity in general. The cost of the privilege, feels heavier, than the lift it provides.

[Also over at the big orange]

If one looks through the 19th century, and the early 20th century, despite the massive changes, they did not attach post- as a prefix to almost every event. New was used, as was pre-, but there was no relentless compulsion to define themselves by a war they did not fight, and by a moment in history which was demographic more than historical. As one writer noted, every American Presidential election since 1960 has been about the 1960's. He was part of it, and had every reason to recall the moment when that year became a marker. We, despite living in a world transfigured, are encapsulated in pastness, and postness.

Tambora was a visible event, of what caused this transition: it was in the middle of what might be called the last great outpost of the "Little Ice Age." Where as a smaller shock in the 1790's caused an inflationary spiral that would culminate in the the American Constitution of 1787, and the French Revolution of 1789, along with a series of wars and changes in the next 20 years, the cold snap associated with the Maunder minimum became a spur to an expansion and founding. This difference provides a lesson for our own age, if only we can read it. It is a Rossetta Stone, because one part is written in the language of the past, and another in the language of the future. To read this stone requires looking backwards to similar moments.


In our present practice of writing and thinking, in our rhetoric of politics and knowledge, we have come to a point of confusion. There will always be confusion, doubt, and despair – but ours is existential, and as a consequence paralyzing at the moment when action is needed. This paralysis will only make action more dramatically necessary, and more painful, when it arrives. Our problem, like that of Gibbons' England, is that we are looking backward at founding moments as the reason for our success, and continuation of the future, when, in fact, this is a founding moment, of a world which exists, but is shackled by chains posted into the dialog and discourse.

This essay is a journey, so here I erect a sign post of the markers along the way, the first is what we mean by post- and why it has exploded. The second is to search for moments in the past who have similarly looked back just at the moment when they should have looked forward. The third is to step forward from the world of post- to a world of proto-, from a narrative that is after, to one that is before. Along the way we will meet Enlil from Sumer and Akkad, stand at the base of volcanic fury as it wipes away old worlds, read Milton and his turning of post- into pre- for his age, look deep into the broad science that paints the history of humanity as a fresco in sulfur and carbon. Along the way we will look outwards to the last man, and meet Mary Shelley's first man.

We will look at the modern governments and their arrangements, and why there is paralysis, not merely in America, but in Europe and Japan and virtually every developed economy. We will come face to face with one of the demons of our present, the paradigm of race, which, it will be show, is not merely a description of people, but a whole way of organizing knowledge, defending rights, granting morality and being itself. The very meaning of post- will change under us, and allow us to set down this burden that shackles our thinking.

And in all of these moments, we will see ourselves, and how we have imposed a falseness on the past. From there it will be possible to see why there is such fury over the idea of a post-racial society, because, in reality, there are two meanings to this phrase, one part of a darkening threat to their position, the other the laying down of a burden.


The ubiquity of "post" might make it seem as if it were a fundamental property of language, that there should be a whole family of words surrounding it. To find this out, we have to look at a projective paradigm, that is taking all of the close combinations of sound, and by close that means the combinations of sound that could have evolved by changes in consonants, and project them through the different vowels, looking at the etymologies of each.

We live in an age of prefixed movements and identifications, three of the most important of these are the labels in time: pre-, post-, and neo-. However the literature on history and communications has been light with a strong inquiry into the ideas which these pre-fixes attempt to convey when attached to a word, and lack a rigorous sense of what uses they should be put to. Why is there, for example "post-modernism" but not "post-Victorianism?" Why do we have post-Impressionism. Is it merely that post is a bucket for an after that does not have an essence of its own, or is it that labeling has meaning, and not labeling has a forbidden meaning? Is it that some post- labels simply didn't have enough utility? Or is it that the utility they had wasn't welcome?

But in exploring the uses of these three prefixes, and where they have been used and by who, and how that has been received, both in scholarship, and in the wider world shows that post is not a core concept of Indo-European languages, but, instead, a relatively late construction. The consciousness of history as having befores and afters, is a relatively late innovation in our world.

Taking a cyclical view of historical movements, this argues for a framework using pre-, post-, neo, and an unsuffixed peak as being a background "meta-" of our construction of history. Our organization of time views every movement should be looked at through a four phase lens, and given a full matrix presentation in that context. Every movement has a before, a during, and an after, as well as a revival, even if that after has not arrived yet, and even if the revival is only a trope, because the first death has not occurred yet. But to think of history as a parade of movements is also rather new.

Some periods label themselves, and thrust their labels on the world, while others have labels thrust upon them. Our age thrusts its labeling on the past, and not always to our advantage.

In examining any term, it is necessary first to examine not merely the history and etymology, but the project of the primitive of the term through the matrix of the language. We must feel the idea rip its way through the fabric of sound, and assert its independence, all yang metaphors intended, and also feel how it is encompassed and enrobed by language and meaning, all yin metaphors intended. The phases of language formation, projection, rejection, injection, reception, all have a part in how people feel terms, how those terms are made to mean, and thus the complex of meanings that will be present. There is no one meaning, and meaning does not live any place, but it does tend to loiter in favorite hang out spots.

In thought a paradigm is a way of organizing knowledge or detail into a theory, to set markers and measurements, so that disparate may become relative, and relative may become absolute. First we take different observations, and correlate them, and then we pin that floating mat of relationships to some hard point. Only then, linked together, can observations become facts. Language is learned by the young mind organizing itself, to be an inner mirror, called a "idiolect" of the sounds and sights absorbed by hearing and seeing.

In linguistics we have paradigms of inflection, for example the mi- paradigms of Greek verbs, which mood, which voice, which tense, which aspect produces which endings and which changes. We also have paradigms of word relationships. Our understanding of the evolution of language comes from the way that sounds shift over time, and the way that sound groups are projected through the musicality of the language, to produce prospective words and "phonemes" – bits of sound that have meaning. To trace an idea, is to trace how these prospective attempts at relating and communicating are then injected back to speech, and some are accepted and others rejected. Different original sound patterns are merged together to strengthen their relationships, and different sound patterns are applied to similar ideas. Consider the word "computer," which comes from a relative of the word "count." Once, that was enough of a word for the idea. Now we have mainframe, mini-computer, laptop, netbook, iPad, PC, console, workstation, desktop, server, rack, blade. Different words, and different origins, because there are many ways to think about computers. Many are based on how the computer is placed in the world: laptop, desktop, blade, rack are not about the computer itself, but how we access it. The paradigm of computers is more the physical package, and less the contents. That paradigm of shape and placement projects through words to produce a host of different words for what are, essentially the same objects: a processor, some fast access of memory, some storage of permanent memory, and some ways of getting input and output.

Next time someone tells you about how many Hawaiian words for ash, or inuit words for snow there are, ask yourself how many words were in Victorian English for computer, and how many are likely to remain at the point when computers are ubiquitous.

This is based on the physical means that language is carried out in the mind, and the social means by which language is transmitted. The cognitive and communicative mechanisms are always in play, and the toss the sense of the truth of a word back and forth between them. Every person has an idiolectical view of meanings: phonemes, memes, ideas, signs, signifiers, and an idiocial, pronounced id-I-o-shal, view of their society. Both of these views work on how people think, and think about, the words they hear, and feel. The presence of a word then, is both how a person feels about it, its parts, and the images that are associated with them, and how they feel others will react to a particular use of a particular word, in a particular context.

This presence is invoked by the use, allusion, or image associated not only with the word, but with its paradigm. When we see "post-" we are thinking not merely of the meaning of after, but the puns, of letters and lumber, and of the sense of distance. While PM means "Post-Meridian" the abbreviation does not convey the same sense of backward looking tha t"post-modern" does. The afternoon does not look back contemplating the dawn, nor miss the early hours in regret or rejection in general. The Post in PM, is silent in a way that the Pre in PMS is a modifier to period of the month. It has disappeared because we do not want to feel the reference to the idea of post as such.

The use of post- as a prefix is quite old, because of its derivation from other languages, it has become part of a complex of words by vowel shift. One might think, for example, that post- and past share a common root, but in fact they have been reinforced on to each other. Pass comes from Pace and the French Pas, and is relate to the Latin Pace. It's paradigm is a foot, or striding, as in the rate of walking, and by 1300, a route. The single consonant shift words beginning in f-, such as foster, feed, and so on are possible related through this same Indo-European root, but have long since not been part of the same linguistic paradigm, instead post- becomes more like past as post- becomes more common, thus the vowel shift. The closest family, taking a shift from Verner's law, is really Indo-European, poeter, that is faeder or father. One is post one's father.

The use of the word post as a pillar is in fact related in the distant nature of the Indo-European languages as pro- stare, or for standing. But has seldom been part of the same paradigm. The search for the post- paradigm finds few words of the same sound pattern having even passing relationship: pat, pad, pace, pace, postulate, part, parse are part of different paradigms. Clearly this is not a case of a single project word through a vowel matrix, but instead the creation of similar sounds from a variety of different sources, with post- and past becoming unified as their meanings became more clearly related. Indeed many uses of the word "post" as in mail, are in fact pas.

The time paradigm was, then injected into the far larger pas- paradigm, and takes on the coloration of standing, of specificity in place. We post- a word, because we have the sense of posting, past, and pacing, combining two senses of what feet are for: standing, as in pasture and pose, and the moving senses described. Thus is not a paradigm, but has been paradigmed.

Pre- on the other hand, is a paradigm, its related forms, such as fore, forte, and forth all not only exist, but flourish. Included here is a clear projective matrix with pro- and proto- The contrast is striking: pre- is a projection that includes three other roots and a variety of results, and pas is the paradigm which absorbs post. Beforeness, leaves a far greater impact on language and proliferates, where as the pastness does not. This makes the wide adoption of post- interesting, in that it has asserted itself as a fundamental particle of meaning, rather than a paradigm that is projected. Instead, post- is a phoneme through which other phonemes are project as part of a phoneme matrix. That it is an important one is almost beyond need to document.

In contrast, neo- is like pre- in that it is happily part of a large family of words from the same projection, including all of those that are based on •nu- and gen-. This includes such words as far afield as gentle. But like post- it maintains a specific technical aspect. We do not use many neo- words except in a way to divorce them from the presentness of our daily language, and neo- maintains its relationship to pre-vowel shifted meaning. While neotony is a perfectly good word, it does not show up in conversation very much. This is important, because "old Anglo-Saxon words" often are not, instead, words are Saxonized, that is made into what we associate with short words, namely English words which are vowel shifted higher and farther forward. In fact, the lower and longer words, like neo- are more like the pronunciation of ante vowel shift English, as attested by the brogues of northern and Welsh dialects, and of some surviving English dialects from early colonial periods, including, but not limited to, some isolates from Appalachia, and Indian English.

Neo-, then, is intentionally distant, even though this makes it more archaic. The root of new in Indo-European, the true old word, is new(ij)os. The rise of neo- in the 19th century meaning not merely neo, but revived, is prefigured by almost 150 years, in the reference to neo-Pelagianism. This is a strange reference, in that Pelagianism is a heresy. The great divide between biological and scientific uses of neo- is that the these senses are "newly" as in neonate, neogam, neologism, neoplasm. The older use in humanities is simply new, as in neoterics, from 1857. Neo- is not newly, nor is it new in the simple sense when we speak of neoclassical, neo-Keynesian, neo-realism but is in neostriatum. The neo- of the humanities is then related to the use of post- in that it means post- squared. It is post the original, and it is post- whatever the reaction to that original is, where as in biology, it means just after, or really "post" in a specific tense, in that the starting point is still dominant and unfinished. A neonate, is a new born, but a mother is post-partum.

Neo- then, means a return in this context, which was uncommon though potentially present, in the modern English period, but flowered only later when return as a historical idea became important. Like post- in this context, neo- has created a family of meanings related to, but distinguished from, consistent uses in the past, and has become part of the phoneme matrix through which ideas are projected. One does not describe Romanticism in the present, but neo-Romanticism. But modernism, despite it's vehement attacks on romanticism, does not often get called "post-Romantic" or even less so "post-Victorian."

This has to be distinguished then, from the use of the word "new" in the same area. A new classical economist, is not a neo-classical economist, a new Liberal is not a neo-liberal. What this difference is, however, is not to be found in projective linguistics, we are not dealing with the same idea projected through sound, but with a conscious choice of different words in the present.

The result of looking at post carefully is that it barely exists, and instead, has been grafted on to a larger paradigm, that of "pace" which is the word "foot" projected through the vowel matrix. From this we get post as in a fence post, past, pass, pace, and even some of the uses of words like pad. Post the word is so berift of relatives, as to make us realize exactly both how fundamental and artificial it is. Post is a marker, not a matrix: it is how we inflect, not a word which is inflected. However, pre- and neo- both have relatives which are inflected, post does not, it is an orphan.

To overturn the appointed times, to obliterate the divine plans, the storms gather to strike like a flood.

The rise of a family of words which are created by post- and neo- starting in the 19th century and accelerating forward implies a framework, or series of frameworks, that sees a particular kind of temporal relationship as being important in ways that were uncommon, though not entirely absent, before. The best way to understand this is to contrast the use of pre- with the use of another word complex ante and its related forms, including antiquity, ancient and so on. Realize that the suffix –an, meaning belonging to, is part of this construction. One good example of the difference is to consider what the meanings of antebellum South and pre-Civil War South. It is not merely moving a phrase from a antiquitian phrase to an English one, it is that an- and ancient, and ante- mean belonging to and unified with. Antebellum south is unified what comes after, but also unified within itself. Gone with the Wind celebrates the aspects of the period which are consistent within themselves, and gone, where as the phrase pre-Civil War South. Antebellum glorifies the period, and romanticizes it, where as pre-civil war points to the aspects of the period which considered itself, and presents itself, as an age unto itself, and of "The Old South." Similarly see "ancien regime" versus "pre-revolutionary" in reference to the history of France.

Thus in the present, ante- is both a description of an integrity of the time period, as opposed to what comes after, a description of a romanticized golden age, and a deliberate effeminization of the period. These three moves work together: first, there is a decided focus on the affluence of life, and the comforts provided, but also a description of what sins lead to the fall. These sins, are those which drive out the masculine principle, are seen as the reason for the fall in the mythology. Reality, however, tells a different story. While in the popular imagination of the time, Marie Antoinette's lavish spending was the cause of the budget crisis, the reality was that France was spending heavily on a colonial empire, and had had repeated bubbles which drained the savings of the public. While dresses and jewelry were the obvious examples of spending, it was ships and muskets which drained far more of the coffers. But these, of course, are not "waste." Hence both the Ancien Regime, and the antebellum South, while being military powerhouses that focused on the development of empire extensively are portrayed as having fallen because of the weaknesses of women. Even though there is admiration for the softening qualities of the leadership. Examples of this abound, for example in the apologist tract by JS Wise entitled "The End of an Era" which praises "Old fuss and feathers" as a nickname, notes that Robert E. Lee was "gentle and quiet," while ridiculing the Republican Presidential ticket of 1856 for having its only votes in Virginia cast in "the panhandle," virtually the wilderness.

Thus ante- in the modern sense, while related to its original sense of anti- meaning against, in that it casts a period as integrated, has acquired the sense of feminization and softening of the golden age.

This paradigm, of a fallen golden age, is not new, and is referenced in cultures from around the world. An example from the early Greek corpus is, of course, Hesiod in Works and Days WD Hes. 109-126. However it's association with ante in the Greek corpus is associated with the use of ante meaning both above, as in antepollens, and decreed by fate. But this pattern is found much earlier, for example in what is called the Lament of Nibru, which dates from the reign of Isme-Dagon, some where between 2100 and 1900 BCE taken here from

As though it were empty wasteland, no one enters that great temple whose bustle of activity was famous. As for all the great rulers who increased the wealth of the city of Nibru -- why did they disappear? For how long would Enlil neglect the Land, where the black-headed {people} {(1 ms. has instead:) Land} {(another ms. has instead:) city} ate rich grass like sheep? Tears, lamentation, depression and despair! How long would his spirit burn and his heart not be placated? Why were those who once played the em and ala drums spending their time in bitter lamenting? Why were the lamenters sitting in its brick buildings? They were bewailing the hardship which beset them.

In this context the destruction of the old cities, including Nibru, once transliterated Nippur, is presented as a before, that the present ritual listeners both looked back to as a richer time, but whose fall was because of the omission of important rituals by its people. This caused the Gods to "change the fate" of the old cities, withdraw from them and destroy them.

Importantly, the ancient title was "To Overturn the Appointed Time," which is a clear catastrophist reference. It specifically describes Isme-Dagan as the ruler who has rebuilt the city, and attempts to establish the legitimacy of the Isin Dynasty as a restoration of the temples and rituals of Nibru, even though they are not.

This forms the end of an arch of mythology which begins with the text known as the Eridu Genesis, which is a flood story, which described the formation of the cities. And which has its golden age described, not as a past, in the Lord of Aratta text. In this text, Enmerkar asks people of the distant city of Aratta to build for him a richly appointed temple:

[*]Let the people of Aratta
[Bring down] for me the mountain-stones from their mountain (-sources)
Build the Urugal for me, set up the great seat for me
Cause the great seat - the abode of the gods - to shine forth for me
Make my m e flourish in Kulaba
[*]Have them build a “mountain” of a lustrous m e
Have them make it luxuriant for me like a boxwood tree
Have them make its horns shine colorful as when the Sun comes forth from its chamber
Have them make protective-signs on its doorposts sparkle brightly

The Cedar Mountain is a reference to Lebanon, and the control of the range centered around what is now known as Qurnat as Sawda remained an important focal point for legitimization through the ancient period, for example the Assyrian Hymns make controlling this range a specific part of proof of the greatness of their kings. This then is how the Sumerian texts described the pinnacle as it was happening: by their wealth. The laments, on the other hand, do not mention the materials of the temple, but the river, the sheep pens, and other basic forms of affluence. This is important to be noted: a trading empire describes its peak by its wealth, but the post- rhetoric is one that focuses on the affluence. In contrast, "Overturning of Appointed Time" notes that the brickwork only brought lamentation, not once, but repeatedly. The opulence of the past is identified as the source of the "bitter tears." Instead the new king provides beer and "sweetest syrup," and will restore the temples and the ancient rites. That is, Sumerian rites, by an Akkadian people. Note that the references to food are not bounty: oil, beer and syrup are all manufactured foods, rather than fresh harvest. Harvest is the sign of plenty, and instead, these are people living on what they can store. This is an important point.

It is interesting that restoration is part of the lament narratives, and to the point here: the vision of a lost golden age, which it is the present generation's duty to restore, corresponds to the construction of ante-, post-, and pre-: the narrative's description of the golden age is ante-, its placement after the destruction is post-, and it predicts a return to glory, which is pre-. Which means that its authors contemplated themselves as what we would call neo. In fact Ur III which directly precedes Isin is called the "Neo-Sumerian" Empire, even though Summerian, which was not a Semitic Language, and been replaced by Akkadian. But is it neo-? Or are we labeling it that way. It could as easily be retro-Sumerian, that is, the last gasp, and history has some indication that it was.

Despite the nature of the construction of Sumerian as an agglutinative language, there is no such corresponding rhetoric of specificity in time. That is, while the narrative can be neatly described using our present construction of time and distance, the authors of it did not see their narrative in that way as a fundamental set of categories. We are talking about very old ideas, but our desire to clearly label them is not universally present, even when the ideas, to our current eye, are easily visible.

Indeed, it was to label such inter-period acquisition that our terms were created. But the action dates very far back.

Contrast this with the use of "pre-" which first unifies a period with what comes afterwards, and emphasizes its doomed nature. Pre-War has a very different rhetorical feel from the connotatively equivalent antebellum. This focus on an as a weak word and pro- and pre- as strong words can be seen in Greek and Latin, with examples to numerous to count. Mark Kaunisto in his survey on ante- and pre- in early Modern English formation notes the competition in similar words, and argues in Variation and change in the lexicon: a corpus-based analysis of adjectives to be wary of distinctions which are pat and easily drawn. In language, one deals with tendencies, and regularities are almost always the result of deliberate later synthesis and prescriptive regularization. Consider for example that pre-Modern and Post-modern do not form a pair, that is they do not describe the emergence of a single principle that defines "Modern" and then its disappearance. Instead Pre-Modern merely means lacking some quality that defines modern, where as Post-Modern is a far more complex word.

The reason could well be partly phonetic: ante- is a softened anti-, that is, in modern English ant- is being projected through the vowel matrix, with eh- e- and i- as possible choices. Consider anti- alone, as opposed to antithetical, which is more vowel specified. But there is also the rhythmic shortness of pre- against ante- and that ante- formation includes such examples for rejection as antedeluvian, meaning "before the flood." Before, and pre- are not the same, in that before merely implies in time, and in this case interruption by a later event, while pre- implies the strands that will lead to the crisis itself.

Consider an issue of dating. Around the world, in about 2000 BC, a period of aridification ended. We find the rise of a bronze age civilization in China. We also see rise in civilization in Europe. There 2200 BC to 1950 BC was a period of increased volcanic activity, and sulfur dioxide markers appear in ice cores around the globe. Dating at this range has wide error bands, because like the archeological record, the carbon and other records depend on finding a few eruptive fixed events that mark time, dating them with tools, and then fixing the rest of the chronology to them. This is important: we date our uniformitarian continuous past, by very unusual events. This point will be referenced repeatedly: the vast spectrum of ordinary dates, are known by extra-ordinary events. The placing of these events is important to the whole of the chronology.

In this case the dates for Isin depend on the date of the sack of Babylon, because the king lists and astronomical texts are otherwise floating. The earlier Babylon was sacked, the farther back in the past all of this happened. An Isin that is post the arid period, is a neo-movement that falls to the Babylonians for reasons unknown, but which has legitimate reasons for hope. An Isin that is still in the middle of this aridity, through no real fault of its own, is a retro- movement, and is trying to hold on with claws to a social organization that cannot hold, because it relies on an agricultural reality that will not return.

Consider the text:

The true temple gave you only tears and lamentation -- it sings a bitter song of the proper cleansing-rites that are forgotten! The brickwork of E-kur gave you only tears and lamentation -- it sings a bitter song of the proper cleansing-rites that are forgotten! It weeps bitter tears over the splendid rites and most precious plans which are desecrated -- its most sacred food rations neglected and …… into funeral offerings, it cries "Alas!". The temple despairs of its divine powers, utterly cleansed, pure, hallowed, which are now defiled! The true temple, which it is bitter to enter on one's own, passes the time renewing its tears.

There are always qualms with translations, but let us set aside the close reading qualms and focus on key points. First: "the brickwork of E-kur gave you only tears and lamentation" At the end of the poem, the restoration is proclaimed, the long list of terrors is responded to by a long list of praises for the restored order, for example:

Now, see! After that time, Enlil, the prince who is full of pity, has been beneficent to his hero who had laid the …… brick! He put in order again for him the divine powers which had been desecrated by the enemy! He sanctified again the defiled rites for him! He purified its ziggurat temple and made it resplendent for him! Within he made abundance plentiful, he filled it with choice beer and syrup! He established there at that time the pleasing of hearts, the appeasing of spirits, the ameliorating of moods!

Note that the focus is on food, not on rebuilding. While the temple has been made resplendent, it has not been rebuilt. While seeds have sprouted and herd animals are breeding again, this is only the return to business as usual, not verdence.

The date matters, because in the case of an earlier date, this is really a people saying that if they hold to the old rites, they will at least have this reprieve. If they just cut the budget enough, and are pure enough, they will at least have goats, sheep, and grain, from which to make oil, beer, and syrup. In the later date, these are people who are starting to see the signs of a coming improvement, which they might hope to reach. Let's compare this, however, with the Old Babylonian texts, which comes after, from the time of Hammurapi, better known as Hammurabi. There are no lines of destruction of Sumer and Akkad, there are no long introductions of terrors and a pious and pitiful pleading for return, instead, there is just praise and commandment. Hammurapi has no need to be "post-" an apocalyptic event, not one word is spent explaining why we should be concerned with devastation. While there is praise to Enlil, and the mountain, there is the "desert crown" of power. We also see the rulership over the "black headed people." So the motifs are carried forward, but added in, are new Gods, who now sit with the old.

The other thing that returns in the Old Babylonian, is sex. The old Enlil narratives are loaded with sex. Consider the Enlil and Ninlil and one representative stanza:

At that time the maiden was advised by her own mother, Ninlil was advised by Nun-bar- e-gunu: "The river is holy, woman! The river is holy -- don't bathe in it! Ninlil, don't walk along the bank of the Id-nunbir-tum! His eye is bright, the lord's eye is bright, he will look at you! The Great Mountain, Father Enlil -- his eye is bright, he will look at you! The shepherd who decides all destinies -- his eye is bright, he will look at you! Straight away he will want to have sex, he will want to kiss! He will be happy to pour lusty semen into the womb, and then he will leave you to it!"

This is from the high days of Sumer, and it is typical of the highly sexed mythology and mythopoesis. Indeed, if one looks a cuneiform writing, it is filled with phallic symbols and vaginas. A recent grave complex from Western China shows an obsession with phalluses and vaginas that is as dense, but few other societies before our own have been as nakedly pornographic and exuberantly detailed about sex as the Sumerians. Note that Overturning and its sister texts are almost completely devoid of sex or other kinds of imagery. The only thing breeding, are the goats.

The Babylonian texts, while not as explicit, have returned to praising the gods and goddesses for being handsome or beautiful, for their sexual prowess, and for their desirability. Again, the before, during, and after tribulation shows in how people write.

But about the dating itself. One can divide the Bronze Age in the West into three parts: an old Bronze Age, which runs until 2200 BC, a middle which runs from 2000 BC through the "Bronze Age Collapse" – that is to say, a Dark Ages – and the late Bronze Age. Each era has its own relative dating system of records and pottery and stratification. The post-collapse chronology ties to Greek records, which tie to Persian records, which tie to Egyptian and Assyrian records. A key confirming date is the eclipse of June 15th, 763 BC, which is a key point in fixing Assyrian records.

The old dates of the empires of Sumer, a non-indo-semitic language, and the empires of Akkad that followed, a Semitic speaking people who not only adopted the Sumerian writing system, but their mythological and religious system, and attempted to present themselves as a continuation, are all approximate – floating somewhere 300 years, with three central chronologies that are separated by astronomical time periods. We have records of eclipses, and they establish the possible anchor points of the chronologies. Perhaps, because, as with many ancient chronologies, we have little to no actual inter-related dating. A few texts date the rest. Some pottery fills in the gaps.

But a new set of dating systems has challenged the wisdom of these chronologies, namely, the long record compiled by climate science over the last 30 years. It was compiled, largely, in a project to discover what the variance in historical climate was, and therefore allow us to model the present. But in looking so far back, it shows us clear powerful climatic moments, and gives us some insight both into what forced those prior climate changes, and changes how we interpret the past.

It the case of the "neo-Sumerian" movement, this dating cuts against current interpretation. Before we read them as being after the improvement of global climate. However, taking the astronomically more correct chronology, we see something different.

Part III of this essay then, is the dating of key events, including the volcanic eruption of Thera, and how this change ripples back, to help show that the "neo-Sumerians" are, in fact, late Akkadians trying to hold on to a system that they can no longer afford. If this seems remote from our present circumstances, think again. Then, as now, the budget cutters argued for austerity in the face of adversity. As they did in the 1790s. In both previous cases, the results were the same: facing external disruption with internal austerity, led to the final collapse of an old order.

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Submitted by lambert on

0. I would like many more examples of 'post'- ideally in a non-academic environment (i.e., not post-modernism).

1. Blog "post"? (Of course, "blog" as "web blog" (ship's log) has a time metaphor buried in plain sight.)

2. 1790s causes an event in 1787?

3. And about the snow words.

4. Quite a bottom line:

facing external disruption with internal austerity, led to the final collapse of an old order.

5. Are we going to get to the proto, and how will we recognize it?

5. I always admire efforts to fight through to the necessary new language. "Fight," with these posts, being the operative word, but have at it, since nobody else will!

6. I really liked the references to Byron in the last installment. Poets, sensitive antenna of the, er, race. I wonder what the artists are (fore)telling today?

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Submitted by Stirling Newberry on

Examples: Post-war, post-9/11. One film is now being touted as:

Dreams of a Dying Heart, a "post-Iraq war film,"

Even one sports site is talking about Cleveland, "post-lebron." So yes, we attach post- on to just about everything. Can you imagine someone with a straight face talking about what the Yankees would be like "post-ruth" in 1935? I don't even want to speculate what would have happened if you had said that in a Marine bar in 1942...

Laki eruption - typo there, the Laki eruption was 1783-85.

Submitted by lambert on

You're absolutely right. Interesting. Of course, the 1940s weren't exactly fin de siecle...

dr sardonicus's picture
Submitted by dr sardonicus on

Not to mention faith in the future, which would be repaid when Joe DiMaggio showed up a couple of years later

It may simply be that the current human anxiety stems from the fear that our farm system has dried up.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

In our present practice of writing and thinking, in our rhetoric of politics and knowledge, we have come to a point of confusion. There will always be confusion, doubt, and despair – but ours is existential, and as a consequence paralyzing at the moment when action is needed.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

It is interesting that restoration is part of the lament narratives, and to the point here: the vision of a lost golden age, which it is the present generation's duty to restore, corresponds to the construction of ante-, post-, and pre-: the narrative's description of the golden age is ante-, its placement after the destruction is post-, and it predicts a return to glory, which is pre-. Which means that its authors contemplated themselves as what we would call neo.

Orwellian language of today, neo-liberalism = faux neo-liberalism.

Card-carrying_Buddhist's picture
Submitted by Card-carrying_B... on

Meanwhile, I am tapping my footses, impatient for the "Pre-" to come . . .