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Post-America: Part I

Stirling Newberry's picture

Far in the distance, canons were heard, shots that rumbled and boomed. The low slung clutter of buildings that was Batavia, which was to become the city of Djakarta in what is now Indonesia, soldiers were dispatched to look for the source of the fighting, their uniforms clinging in the humidity. It was not quite war, unbeknownst to the administration and others, Napoleon had escaped from Elba, and was making his way to Paris, but two decades of war had left too many marks, indeed Batavia was under British administration even though it was formally owned by the Dutch. But no fighting was found. It is the evening of April 5th, 1815, and across the sprawling archipelago that forms the barrier between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, thunder and detonation sounds are heard, on Borneo, on Sulawesi, on Bali.

It was the sound of a new world being born, in the explosive depths of a volcanic eruption. It is the begining of the way we now structure time, into pre- and post- and neo-, where an era is defined by what it is after, and what it is before, where moments are so powerful that everyone after must pay a rent in mind and society to them. However unreal that may be.

For those of you who want to kick the big orange version, it is here.

The sun had turned from one phase to another, and the earth with it. The world we understand as "the 19th century" was being created in a caldron of fire. This even would mark culture, politics, and language, including the creation of an idea that haunts us today: of a "post" world. This essay is on the creation of Post-America, and what that means for the future. But to understand the idea, it will be necessary to go farther back into the past, into the earliest moments of the creation of humanity, through the birth of revolution, and past markers of events and moments which are an analog to our own.

On the morning of the 6th however, Sir Thomas Raffles, noted that all doubt as to the source were erased, and that the sounds seemed "close at hand." In reality, there were over a thousand kilometers away. The sun was obscured, "as if enveloped by fog." The explosions shook houses, and on the 12th, in the afternoon, the ash was so think as to limit visibility to 300 yards. He would later collect letters that described the torrent of ashes that darkened the daylight. He quotes one from Sumanap, that explosions shook like a cannonade on the 10th – a description echoed by others in other places – and reported people using candles in the afternoon of the 11th.

Those who had passed closer were able to identify the source: "Tomboro Mountain", which seemed to be on fire, and creating a vast pillar of ash and pumice. Nothing like it was remembered, nor recounted in tradition. Raffles noted in his memoir that it seemed the largest such eruption in history – and science concurs with him. A huge cloud of ash and pumice, darkened the sky and left inches of ash behind it, with some areas not seeing the sun again until the 15th of April.

Nearer the explosion, whole islands were ripped of all vegetation and human inhabitation, pumice and ash was feet thick and even the monsoon rains were not able to wash it away. The rains had obscured the sound in some directions, but as far as 970 miles away the distinct "cannonade" explosion, which marked ripping apart of the mountain, had been heard. An eyewitness, the Rajah of Saugar told a cruiser captain that on the 10th of April, at 7pm, three columns of flame had burst forth. In an hour the mountain was obscured, and shortly after that rocks, some "as large as two fists, but most the size of walnuts," came pouring from the sky. A tsunamai was reported, "12 feet higher than the sea had ever been seen before" and a wind uprooted trees. In the villages near where the Rajah was, some 12,000 people were missing.

The tall graceful mountain, over 4000m tall, had lost almost 1500m of height, and left behind a caldera miles across. An estimated 130 cubic kilometers of "hard rock equivalent" had been thrown into the atmosphere. There was starvation and death, tens of thousands would die from famine or the direct effects of the eruption.

But Tambora was not done with the world yet.

Beginning when Tabmora started venting in 1812, there are waves of sulpher dioxide found in ice cores around the world: in Greenland, in the Andes, in Antarctica. These layers indicate that the gas was floating in the atmosphere, and creating a wave of cold that sat heavily on regions around the world, two of these, were Western Europe, and the Eastern area of North America, which was where the population of English speaking people was centered. Tambura's co-conspirators were the 1812 eruptions of La Soufriere on St. Vincent, Awu in Indonesia, Suwanosejima on Ryukyu in Japan and Mayon in the Philiplines.

The cold snap from 1812 to 1816 culminated in a disastrous harvest because of the rain and the cold. Snow fell in North Montreal and as far south as Connecticut in July.

1812-1816 Europe maps

The above charts are from the WDC for Paleoclimatology, based on Tree-Ring density. The larger the triangle, the larger the temperature departure from the norm. Blue, of course, represents colder. Cold waves blanketed Western, Northern, and Central Europe. There had been a similar volcanic cold snap in 1782, but it was much smaller. Famine had contributed to the instability of the Ancien Regime, and it now created a new crisis for the restored one. This string of cold years was the worst in decades, and it stretched around the world.

The other co-conspirator was the Sun, which was undergoing what is called the "Dalton Minumum" of Sunspot activity. While the mechanisms that connect sunspots to climate are not well understood, the linkage has been explored in numerous papers. We know that sunspots, while optically dark, represent magnetic fields, and the current theory is that the magnetic force between pairs of sunspots increase the sun's output of energy, and decrease the amount of lightening and rain, thus leading to a warming on earth. The level of sunspot activity began sliding late in the 18th century, and did not start rising again until 1820. The volcanic activity thus flooded Sulfur dioxide and dust into the atmosphere, at the same time the sun was emitting less energy.

Europe, exhausted from the Napoleonic Wars, was in no position to take this sharp drop of output, indeed, looking at the shape and size of the problem, the fall of Napoleon can be seen in a very different light, as economic pressure would have added to military pressure on the over-extended empire. The story of what the restored order would do has filled many volumes, and could fill many more. There was, in Europe, a revival of the Catholic Church's influence in politics, particularly in the Restored monarchy in France. There was continued economic turbulence, as all of the problems that had lead to the upheavals were still in place: industrialization, alone, was the solution to Europe's production problems, but the misery which it created was an intractable political explosive waiting to be set off. France would see restoration in 1814, the hundred days of Napoleon, restoration again, a revolution in 1830 for a constitutional monarchy, a revolution in 1848 for a Second Republic, and then the Second Empire beginning in 1852.

The shock of Tambora and the Dalton Minimum of Sunspots then, was a beginning of a new, and more conservative, era, where the forces of conservative adherence, and the forces of nascent liberal and socialist orders, were in a punctuated balance: revolts spread across the Americas against the Spanish Empire, Belgium split from the Netherlands. At the same time the political power in Europe rested, at least nominally, with a "Conservative Order" that left monarchies in place. Where the Laki eruption from the 1790's had created a small drop, primarily in Europe, this was a world wide volcanic winter. As much of the disruption from Laki was from the ash itself, poisoning crops, and setting of an orgy of inflation. The early 19th century drop set off deflation, in no small part because England was recoining its entire currency, and much of the rest of the world was moving to a trade based system. This system was intended to make food available to those who could pay for it. On this more later.

"I had a dream, which was not all a dream."

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went--and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires--and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings--the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,
And men were gather'd round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire--but hour by hour
They fell and faded--and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash--and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless--they were slain for food.

Darkness, 1-37 George Lord Byron, July 1816

While the eruption of Europe largely did not trouble sleep on that troubled continent, the only Europeans who really cared were those close at hand, the five year long sunspot and sulfur cold snap would send ripples through the culture. It has often been speculated that Frankenstein and the modern Vampire were born of an outing on a Swiss lake. The tale, based on Mary Shelley's own account, and revised somewhat by later investigation goes like this: in 1816 Mary Wollestonecraft Godwin, her boyfriend and later husband Percy Shelley, George Lord Byron, Claire Clairmont, Mathew Lewis and John William Polidori, Byron's physician and aspiring author himself spent time around the Villa . They had expected to spend a great deal of time outdoors, but the weather, and the famine in Switzerland, prevented this. Instead they turned inward – including, it has been speculated, some amount of bed hopping – and spent the rainy days talking, writing, and reading, After reading from a collection of ghost stories, Byron proposes they write their own. Mathew Lewis recounted several, which Percy Shelley set down, Polidori took a fragment from Byron and turned it into Vampyre, and Mary set down what she called the results of a waking dream, as Frankenstien: or Modern Prometheus. Mary would turn to what we would now call science fiction again with her apocalyptic novel, also drawn from her character sketches of Percy and Byron, The Last Man.

It was not a grouping that had an auspicious future: Polidori would die, perhaps of suicide, in 1821, aged 26. Lewis would die in 1818 at age 43 of a fever, Percy would die at age 29 in 1822 in as his small boat sank, Byron would die in 1824 campaigning in Greece during the Greek War of Independence at 36. Mary would outlive all of them, and to a great extent is a lens into this formative group of romantics. If anyone needs to know why death haunted the Romantic movement's later phases, reflect on the ages 26, 43, 29, 36. In all likelihood, to quote the famous line, by the time he was your age dear reader, a romantic author had been dead for several years. Travel and illness figure prominently: Percy in a boat, Lewis from a fever after travel, Byron while at war. The young generation in the arts and mathematics had similar swathes cut through them: the co-inventors of group theory Neils Abel at 26 from tuberculosis, Evariste Galois was shot at age 22. The young deaths of several romantic composers, Schubert, Schuman, and Mendelssohn are often noted. The generation before, despite war and disturbance, was not so afflicted: dipping down into the river of accomplished writers and thinkers before, Mozart died tragically early, but comparable figures generally lived longer: Beethoven, Haydn, Poisson, Alexander Pope, William Blake, Goethe, all had longer lives, and many lived past the young romantics die off.

Other movements would flower at the same moment, driven by a very interesting shift in the ideological and intellectual drift of that moment. Mormonism, for example, has the same scientific trappings and tropes, for example the finding of prophecy, that are present in Mary Shelley's The Last Man. It is interesting to contrast Matthew Lewis' most famous novel, the now seldom read or referenced The Monk with the work of the younger novelist. Like Frankenstien, The Monk was an exuberant product of a young mind in a short space of time, but that time was the late 18th century, not the early 19th century. In it, incest and magic are driving factors, and the religiously forbidden is the powerful current which drives the horror. The world of 1796, when Lewis poured out his novel, was on the cusp of changes. It looked back to a hidden and occult knowledge, and saw the Devil as the source of violent instability, where as Shelley, both of them, and Byron, were penning wholly materialistic terrors, even if grounded in religious literature such as Milton's Paradise Lost and biblical verses. 20 years had transfigured the imagination of Europe, and their relationship to their own revealed texts. Even the religious mind had been altered, and in ways that will be looked at shortly in the creation of Pre-Millenarian Dispensationalism.

The European world was going from a pre- to a post- event horizon, and at the same time the imagination was going in the other direction. The occult examination of Faust in Goethe, and in The Monk presumes that knowledge was known once, and is recovered through magic. There was an age, the age had a fall, and that fall left the truth of the workings of the world unknown to this, a less learned age. The secrets were held in the hand of a spirit, that spirit had a name, and that name could be found. Thus the people of pre-Revolutionary imagination, because of course Goethe, Grainville and Lewis had their imaginations formed in pre-Revolutionary times, looked backward even as events were exploding upon them, the imagination of younger Mary Shelley, and George Gordon. The past is not the source of unholy knowledge, but instead, it is the scientific inquiry which produces a "Modern Prometheus."

The apocalyptic imagination was not new, not even to the writers of this particular moment. Swedenborg had spent a long tract dated from 1766, in Latin, analyzing The Apocalypse of Saint John, or the Book of Revelations, and in 1806 an religious apocalyptic work, Le Dernier Homme was published, with a bad translation into English following shortly afterward. Apocalyptic literature flourished in Europe after the Black Death, and is a recurrent theme in cultures going back to the beginnings of writing, and before that, in oral traditions. The end of all is a subject that is close at hand because humanity has suffered repeated die offs, dating back into deep time, as can be seen from our genetic and archeological heritage. Massive famines, great wars, climate change, internal collapse, invasion from outside, are factors which recur in history. Some can be directly attributed to specific events, or to long term changes. Others seem to stand out as being caused by the defects in the societies of the time, which weaken and hasten collapse, others from events which throw populations. To take one example, Song China was not a deeply troubled society, but it was no match for the Mongol invaders, even though it held out for a long time and was conquered only with great difficulty by a dynasty that did not last for long. Fast moving empires, Assyria, Akkadia, Alexander's conquests, the Turks, the Islamic conquests, have destroyed societies which while they were troubled, were not in any sense on the verge of collapse, and were not under pressure from natural forces. The same natural forces which doom an old society often create openings for others.

The previous generation did not see the end of the world, as much as a foreboding of the end of their established order: Malthus' famous essay on population is from 1796, Gibbons began writing Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1773, and the last volumes were brought out in 1788. To understand the difference between, Decline and Fall; Malthus; Swedenborg on one hand, and The Last Man, Darkness and Mormonism and

It is a mistake, given the long history of the Doom genre in Christian art, the thousands of apocalyptic texts in every language, and the continuing fascination of ending, to ascribe creation to a particular moment. However, what can be shown, is that each particular moment inhabits the theme of the apocalyptic with its very present concerns and very present experience. It is possible to construct complex theories relating events to broad outcomes, this is because of our own defects in knowledge. We look for necessary and sufficient, because managing the non-linear world often eludes us.

Islands of What was Become

The greater part of the city is built upon a high hill, which rises from an extensive plain, but several of its circles extend for some distance beyond the base of the hill, which is of such a size that the diameter of the city is upward of two miles, so that its circumference becomes about seven. On account of the humped shape of the mountain, however, the diameter of the city is really more than if it were built on a plain.

It is divided into seven rings or huge circles named from the seven planets, and the way from one to the other of these is by four streets and through four gates, that look toward the four points of the compass. Furthermore, it is so built that if the first circle were stormed, it would of necessity entail a double amount of energy to storm the second; still more to storm the third; and in each succeeding case the strength and energy would have to be doubled; so that he who wishes to capture that city must, as it were, storm it seven times. For my own part, however, I think that not even the first wall could be occupied, so thick are the earthworks and so well fortified is it with breastworks, towers, guns, and ditches.

The City of the Sun, Tommaso Campanella, 1625, translated 1901.

We do not think of elites generally as predicating their power on a grand change, why would they? The answer is that newness inspires the belief that oldness can be transfigured. Elites, to stay or rise as elites, must often be in front of the rhetoric of new, in order to show that the new or unknown will not be a revolutionary change, but instead make the perfection of the existing order more obvious. In the Lord of Aratta text, the wealth of an unknown city is used to perfect the real one. This vision from nearly the dawn of written records as narrative, is repeated. A particularly obvious eruption is with the discovery of the new world. Religions and revolutions both are struggling to reach a future state, better and different than this one. Religions seek to prove that without the evils of people who are insufficiently pious, the new will be better than the old, while revolutionaries see the established hierarchy as being the problem. Religions argue, as in the Laments of the Neo-Sumerians, that the lord and the religion that he heads, did not have enough control, and the collapse of order that follows this is the source of evil, while revolutionaries argue almost the exact opposite, that excess of control is the problem.

The term New World dates from the 1550's in English. But English is not the first language to be touched by newmania: the crown of Spain established Neuva España in 1535 for the Vice-Royality of the northern territory claimed or captured in the Americas, and in 1717 Nueva Granada, in 1614 the Dutch declared "Nieuw-Nederland" and in 1620 the English colonists declared "New England" along the Atlantic Coast of North America, the declaration of "Nova Scotia," that is "New Scotland" in 1621, Sweden established " Nya Sverige," or New Sweden along the Delaware river in 1638. This is in contrast with exploration and colonization of Afro-Eurasian lands, where there is a singular lack of "New," as opposed to in the Americas, where new clings to every city, state, and county: New Amstel, New York, New Castle, New London, to name but a few.

In 1621, Lord Chancellor, Sir Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, tumbled from political pinnacle in disgrace. He was attainder on 23 counts of corruption, barred from holding public office, and from ever sitting in Parliament again. He would spend the rest of his life as a private citizen, and engaged in philosophy. He had, in 1620, already published Novum Organon, on logic and methods for inquiry, but in 1623 he began writing "The New Atlantis." Bacon, a confirmed believer in New, was about to add to a wave of Utopian fiction.

The original Utopia, by Sir Thomas More written in 1516, only years after the first contact of the Americas by Europeans, meaning "no place" was set on "a new island" in the Atlantic. The New World was then, an impetus for a series of visions about how the old one ought to be reformed. The relationship with religion in all of them is visible: whether it is a simple acceptance of the identity of religion in Bacon, a struggle with religious dogma in Kepler, or the theocratic prophesy of Campanella's 1602 La città del Sole. This work is particularly interesting in looking at Utopianism, in that it prophesizes that the True Faith, led by Spain and the Pope, would conquer and establish a peaceful new world order under a theocratic monarchy.

His vision was closer to the "new" that would become than we would like to think now. Despite his book being buried, it is a better description of the Spanish Empire, with its militant theocracy, than anything from Thomas More's pen. Despite its status as obscure, it is a better description of the vision of a large wing of the Republican Party today, than anything by Sir Francis Bacon. The empires of reason, then, as now, conflict in the human mind, with empires of faith alone.

The theocracy of City of the Sun is as important as the rationalism of The New Atlantis, intellectuals, as much as mercenaries and empires, are at war over the new. Bacon details the parts of his system of inquiry in Salomen's house. It is worth noting that both Campanella and Bacon were disgraced at the time of their writing their books. It is also worth noting that More would eventually be beheaded, that Kepler was in constant tension with the church

By contrast, The New Atlantis begins with a voyage from "Peru" where the narrator has stayed, "for a year." He is not alone in wishing himself to be on a new, but definitely real, place. Johannes Kepler is writing Somnium, which views the Earth from the Moon, not long there afterward Cyrano de Bergerac would write about the states on the Moon.

What the revolutionary authors have in common is a critique of the present state of their world affairs, and the desire to pin that critique, not on an imaginary island, as Atlantis and Utopia are pinned on places which are not known to exist, and are even intentionally so, but on places which do exist, and can be seen. The trope of visiting an unreal place is not new, in fact the Sumerian text referred to above, Aratta, is a fictional place. As are other establishment works. The revolutionaries, by contrast, are set someplace.

The reason for looking at this wave of newness, is precisely because it combines both New and Neo-. The works mentioned here, without exception, all partake of Aristotlean and Platonic models, but they are not Neo- in that they do not locate the good in some past movement or some past moment other than the mythic Eden of the fall itself. It is also important to realize that works that are too doctrinaire are often as likely to be viewed with suspicion as works that are too radical, this is because hierarchies live in the real world, they have to make compromises, and very often shift resources from the great project, whatever that is, to their own personal luxuries. Moralizing philosophers have lectured rulers on excessive luxury for a very long time, and people who are too pure are often as much of a threat as those who are heretical. For any number of examples, see how the Catholic Church has dealt with various movements that emphasize the poverty of Christ.

So why talk about the newness of this period almost without a name? Because it shows an important idea, and that is that a rhetorical framework is useful precisely because it can be turned in either direction: it is a poor sword, that has only one edge.

But it is not just newness that is being created in this epoch, it is time rhetoric as well. And just as with newness, it can be turned in either direction. One might think that pre- comes before post- invariably, as in pre-War and Post War. However, it can follow as easily the other direction, the present moment can be seen as post- a mythic or legendary past, and pre- the return of that past. This is the narrative of religion: it is the narrative of Nibur, and it is found in the 1600's in the landmark epic poem, Paradise Lost by John Milton. Looking at this poem is important not only because it shows how post- can precede pre-, but because Milton directly asserts an idea that underlies his version of the framework, and which will be found in other versions: that of determinism and predestination.

Satan's Revolution

Milton's work is broad and vast, and thus, as a great work, defies any one specific and particular reading. Milton, when he became far more explicit and concise, wrote Paradise Regained which has not been spoken of with the same awe or reverence as the sprawling and imprecise epic. What is interesting for this inquiry is the post/pre narrative that it outlines and how it outlines it. Milton's work is about two revolutions: one by Satan which fails, and another by the Son of God, which will prevail.

Let us start with Satan's revolution, from Book I:

Whereto with speedy words th' Arch-Fiend replied:--
"Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable,
Doing or suffering: but of this be sure--
To do aught good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to his high will
Whom we resist. If then his providence
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
Our labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil;
Which ofttimes may succeed so as perhaps
Shall grieve him, if I fail not, and disturb
His inmost counsels from their destined aim.
But see! the angry Victor hath recalled
His ministers of vengeance and pursuit
Back to the gates of Heaven: the sulphurous hail,
Shot after us in storm, o'erblown hath laid
The fiery surge that from the precipice
Of Heaven received us falling; and the thunder,
Winged with red lightning and impetuous rage,
Perhaps hath spent his shafts, and ceases now
To bellow through the vast and boundless Deep.
Let us not slip th' occasion, whether scorn
Or satiate fury yield it from our Foe.
Seest thou yon dreary plain, forlorn and wild,
The seat of desolation, void of light,
Save what the glimmering of these livid flames
Casts pale and dreadful? Thither let us tend
From off the tossing of these fiery waves;
There rest, if any rest can harbour there;
And, re-assembling our afflicted powers,
Consult how we may henceforth most offend
Our enemy, our own loss how repair,
How overcome this dire calamity,
What reinforcement we may gain from hope,
If not, what resolution from despair."
Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate,
With head uplift above the wave, and eyes
That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides
Prone on the flood, extended long and large,
Lay floating many a rood, in bulk as huge
As whom the fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian or Earth-born, that warred on Jove,
Briareos or Typhon, whom the den
By ancient Tarsus held, or that sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim th' ocean-stream.
Him, haply slumbering on the Norway foam,
The pilot of some small night-foundered skiff,
Deeming some island, oft, as seamen tell,
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind,
Moors by his side under the lee, while night
Invests the sea, and wished morn delays.
So stretched out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay,
Chained on the burning lake; nor ever thence
Had risen, or heaved his head, but that the will
And high permission of all-ruling Heaven
Left him at large to his own dark designs,
That with reiterated crimes he might
Heap on himself damnation, while he sought
Evil to others, and enraged might see
How all his malice served but to bring forth
Infinite goodness, grace, and mercy, shewn
On Man by him seduced, but on himself
Treble confusion, wrath, and vengeance poured.
Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
His mighty stature; on each hand the flames
Driven backward slope their pointing spires, and rolled
In billows, leave i' th' midst a horrid vale.
Then with expanded wings he steers his flight
Aloft, incumbent on the dusky air,
That felt unusual weight; till on dry land
He lights--if it were land that ever burned
With solid, as the lake with liquid fire,
And such appeared in hue as when the force
Of subterranean wind transports a hill
Torn from Pelorus, or the shattered side
Of thundering Etna, whose combustible
And fuelled entrails, thence conceiving fire,
Sublimed with mineral fury, aid the winds,
And leave a singed bottom all involved
With stench and smoke. Such resting found the sole
Of unblest feet. Him followed his next mate;
Both glorying to have scaped the Stygian flood
As gods, and by their own recovered strength,
Not by the sufferance of supernal Power.
"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,"
Said then the lost Archangel, "this the seat
That we must change for Heaven?--this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is sovereign can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor--one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th' associates and co-partners of our loss,
Lie thus astonished on th' oblivious pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy mansion, or once more
With rallied arms to try what may be yet
Regained in Heaven, or what more lost in Hell?"

There is a great deal here, but it can be summarized: first there is a direct attempt to overthrow the established order by main force. Compare this with the "Overturning" text, and one sees that Satan fails to do as revolutionary what the Gods chose to do as overlords. But having failed, Satan puts forward principles of his new order in Hell. First that their delight will be in opposing the power that has cast them out of Heaven, doing ill not good. Second, that the mind, the inner self, not the environment is determining, and third that to rule is better than to serve. Satan's revolution then is one of opposition, unchanging will, and power.

It is not hard to see Milton's political commentary on his own moment, just as the other texts have their own political commentary. One could be very reductive. While the condemnation of brickwork and praise of feasting of the old cities has a symbolic importance, one could also read it in a more pragmatic way, as a plea to pay for food rather than improvements to the temple. "Bricks? No we don't eat bricks." In Milton's case, clearly, he is post-Civil War in his values and Post-Republican. He accepts directly the need for a hierarchical head, by casing Satan in the role of Oliver Cromwell. While not denying such a historicist interpretation, what is useful here is both his thrust for the Second Revolution, that of the Son of God, and the strategies he uses to argue for it. Other minds would reach a Miltonian moment, and they would make some of the same choices directly, indirectly, and orthogonally.

Satan's revolution, in Milton is both ordained, because all is ordained, and it leaves behind change: Eve and then Adam eat of the tree of knowledge. Importantly, Satan lies to tell the truth to get Eve to do this, and Adam follows because he loves her more than above. This is not inconsequential: Milton is locating human goodness in bonds between people that are above the bonds to abstract cause.

The Second Revolution in Milton is that of the Son of God. That SoG is a conservative is easy to prove, that he is a revolutionary not much more difficult:

First the Son of God as Conservative:

Know then, that, after Lucifer from Heaven
(So call him, brighter once amidst the host
Of Angels, than that star the stars among,)
Fell with his flaming legions through the deep
Into his place, and the great Son returned
Victorious with his Saints, the Omnipotent
Eternal Father from his throne beheld
Their multitude, and to his Son thus spake.
At least our envious Foe hath failed, who thought
All like himself rebellious, by whose aid
This inaccessible high strength, the seat
Of Deity supreme, us dispossessed,
He trusted to have seised, and into fraud
Drew many, whom their place knows here no more:
Yet far the greater part have kept, I see,
Their station; Heaven, yet populous, retains
Number sufficient to possess her realms
Though wide, and this high temple to frequent
With ministeries due, and solemn rites:
But, lest his heart exalt him in the harm
Already done, to have dispeopled Heaven,
My damage fondly deemed, I can repair
That detriment, if such it be to lose
Self-lost; and in a moment will create
Another world, out of one man a race
Of men innumerable, there to dwell,
Not here; till, by degrees of merit raised,
They open to themselves at length the way
Up hither, under long obedience tried;

Crucial to this passage is that the powers that be must respond to Satan's revolution for "dispeopled" heavan, and must create anew a world. Thus Adam is a post-fall character, even before the fall from grace in Eden. Eden, the "New World" a term already well in use by Milton's moment, is "New Heaven." This section is also one of the first uses of the term "race" applied to people in English. Race too, is a relatively new word, entering the language in the late 16th century. It's function here is to set that intrinsic good comes from the creation of God, a theological point well established by the time of Milton.

The conservatism is easy to spot: "Up hither, under long obedience tried;" is not the creed of anything other than a conservative. However, SoG is also a revolutionary:

By doom severe, had not the Son of God,
In whom the fulness dwells of love divine,
His dearest mediation thus renew'd.
Father, thy word is past, Man shall find grace;
And shall grace not find means, that finds her way,
The speediest of thy winged messengers,
To visit all thy creatures, and to all
Comes unprevented, unimplor'd, unsought?
Happy for Man, so coming; he her aid
Can never seek, once dead in sins, and lost;
Atonement for himself, or offering meet,
Indebted and undone, hath none to bring;
Behold me then: me for him, life for life
I offer: on me let thine anger fall;
Account me Man; I for his sake will leave
Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee
Freely put off, and for him lastly die
Well pleased; on me let Death wreak all his rage.
Under his gloomy power I shall not long
Lie vanquished. Thou hast given me to possess
Life in myself for ever; by thee I live;
Though now to Death I yield, and am his due,
All that of me can die, yet, that debt paid,
Thou wilt not leave me in the loathsome grave
His prey, nor suffer my unspotted soul
For ever with corruption there to dwell;
But I shall rise victorious, and subdue
My vanquisher, spoiled of his vaunted spoil.
Death his death's wound shall then receive, and stoop
Inglorious, of his mortal sting disarmed;
I through the ample air in triumph high
Shall lead Hell captive maugre Hell, and show
The powers of darkness bound. Thou, at the sight
Pleased, out of Heaven shalt look down and smile,
While, by thee raised, I ruin all my foes;
Death last, and with his carcase glut the grave;
Then, with the multitude of my redeemed,
Shall enter Heaven, long absent, and return,
Father, to see thy face, wherein no cloud
Of anger shall remain, but peace assured
And reconcilement: wrath shall be no more
Thenceforth, but in thy presence joy entire.

Thus he opposes the full force of the punishment, and proposes a new order, one where he pays the debt of those below him, in the fullness of time that they will raise to the level of heaven. This is a revolution, in favor of individual freedom, whose seed was planted twice by Lucifer: first in the need to create a race of men, and second in the binding of person to person in the following of Eve by Adam. The Son of God limits man to what he should know, places every caveat possible but cannot avoid laying down a stone where there is the end of pure hierarchy.

This then is a post/pre narrative: there was a before, and a fall, then a second creation, and then another fall. The Son of God's action makes no sense except in reference to these falls. The story is Post-Fall. However, the direction of the action is to the future, when there will be a reunification in a new state of Paradise. Pre comes after Post in this narrative.

What joins the two, is predestination, prophecy, and determinism:

The law of God exact he shall fulfil
Both by obedience and by love, though love
Alone fulfil the law; thy punishment
He shall endure, by coming in the flesh
To a reproachful life, and cursed death;
Proclaiming life to all who shall believe
In his redemption; and that his obedience,
Imputed, becomes theirs by faith; his merits
To save them, not their own, though legal, works.
For this he shall live hated, be blasphemed,
Seised on by force, judged, and to death condemned
A shameful and accursed, nailed to the cross
By his own nation; slain for bringing life:
But to the cross he nails thy enemies,
The law that is against thee, and the sins
Of all mankind, with him there crucified,

The future, is written in a post-/pre- narrative. The speakers in the post/pre moment tell the following story: the admit of the fall, and of its ruinous consequences, whether the fall of Man, capital "M" or the fall of Nibru and other cities. However, the offer an explanation: the lack of fidelity to the forces which produce what the Chinese would call the Mandate of Heaven. Focus on physical power, and loss of piety cause the fall, in this narrative. That is the post- then there is the pre-, which says that the piety restored, the favor of the gods or God, return. But to enact this new piety, the sins which led to the first fall must be corrected. The brickwork brought bitter tears.

Thus New and Post/Pre are connected even in the 1600's. A new creation is the response to a post-event which cannot be undone in its then form. This is the essence of post-ness in our own time, and while Milton knew the concept, he saw no need for the term in this context as a common modifier. While Milton knows Post-ness, he has so few examples of it, that they are nameable individually. He doesn't have hundreds of ideas and events to be post, just a few: the fall of Satan, the fall of Eden, the fall of the Stuart Monarchy, the Fall of the Commonwealth. Milton's generation does not need post- as a matrix through which other ideas are projected in time.

The rhetoric of post/pre then has now in between them. Now is post some event which might be taken to destabilize faith in established authority. The post/pre narrative accepts the reality of that event, explains why it was the common follower's lack of sufficient devotion that caused the event, and not a flaw in the revealed authority, and predicts a better future for having fallen. This idea, that you do not know what you have until you have lost it, has tragic forms, but also is the basis of "boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again." High and low.

However, they do need Neo- and they do need Proto-. Protochronicler, Protoprotestant, protobishop, protopoets, Protopattern are all from the 1600s and displaying a nuance of meanings, but focused on the state of having a quality slightly before its official or fully formed state.

Consider one of the first users of proto-, not only that a liberal user of proto-, Robert Parsons, who in A treatise of three conversions of England from paganisme to Christian religion published in 1604, uses the word "proto-" to describe both proto-protestant, and proto-martyr. He is not a protestant, and instead is a Catholic apologist, however recognizes the power of proto, even as he tries to refute the claim of martyr status for particular heretics before the coming of Protestantism to England, on pages 354 and 355 of the third part of the treatise, he first attacks the idea that Taylor disagreed with fundamental Roman Catholic doctrine, and thus, according to Parsons, Taylor could not be heralding a general movement towards Protestantism. Then Parsons must then outline what he thinks Taylor's heresy was, and that he was rightfully condemned, but not for reasons good for Protestantism. The point is lost to history, as the very Catholic king Henry VIII would behead the very Catholic Utopian thinker Sir Thomas More, to get a divorce and take England to Protestantism. The real proto-ness of the martyr was that he was in favor of a secular calendar, instead of obedience to Rome.

This then is an attempt to attack a pre/post narrative. But the attack is written precisely because Parsons is worried that it might have force, resembling, he admits, the martyrdom of others who brought England from "paganism" to Christianity in the first place. The pre/post story is around an event in time, an event that is not, necessarily, now, but which might be. The proto- in Parsons, represents a claim of pre-ness, in this case one he rejects, but in rejecting sets it down for history. Then there is post-ness, the time after the event. Parsons argues that there is not enough connection between the doctrines of Protestantism, and the proto-martyr they claim, But again, he illuminates what pre/post means. Pre/post as a narrative argues that there is a positive connection between the pre and the post, that is that some quality or aspect of proto-martyr must connect to the post- time. At least, if there is to be any validity.

This is in direct contrast to the post/pre narrative, which holds that the disconnection is the defining characteristic: the lack of piety of the old order connects people to the fall, and the narrator warns that any lack of piety now will lead to yet another fall. Floggings will continue, until morale improves.

The other point from Parsons is that it is Pro-testant not prot-estant. This is seen from the hyphenation of his margins, where Protestant appears hyphenated, he has the first syllable as Pro-. For an age relatively indifferent to standardized spelling, orthography being as yet, a distant concept, this is important. Parsons, in general, prefers the long vowel as the end of a word, even when later we would not do so, his English is richer in long vowels than our own. For Parsons, the Pro-testants, have yet to be tested. Parsons' linguistic advancement is combined with the reality that he is a lousy theologian, many of his arguments, such as how can someone be a martyr who denies being one, are answered elsewhere, martyrs often deny being so, often under torture, but become martyrs precisely because others see them as leading towards the very struggle that the present faces.

At that moment, the conservatives need proto- precisely because there is movement, movement towards revolution, and the rhetorical job of the conservative, is to deny such trends, to deny connections, to attack the idea that there is a growing wave of before, to attack the consistency of those who hold the movements, as he spends pages attacking Archbishop Cranmer for recanting his faith, and then recanting the recanting. To the conservative mind, consistency is damned if you do, and damned if you do not. Milton condemns Satan for making up his mind, and then for changing it. Milton's God is not irrevocably cast to decisions, except when he is. Thus in 1702, Lucifer is "the proto-sinner of heaven." The concept of proto was needed in the 1600's in a way that post-ness was not, and thus the proto- prefix was appropriated from its other use, meaning of the first rank, such as protojustitiar, which dates from 1250, and a sense still current in the 17th century. Proto as "head" or "chief" is the principle use of post-classical Latin, leaving a wide trail through legal Latin in the pipe rolls. It is in the use as "first" containing the pattern, and beforeness that proto- is now in the English Language, that is, it is a version of our rhetoric of Pre- in reverse. Pre- contains the seeds of the demise of that moment, as in Pre-War, while Proto- the seeds of its resurrection. Looking carefully, we see the usage form that this might have come from, so long as we do not draw too causal an inference, namely the use of proto- in post-classical Latin is "chief" or head, while its use in revived Ancient Greek, was for first, as is attested in the early 16th century, and in texts on Latin throughout that period.

Why the 17th century needed to create proto in a form that we still need, displacing a form that must be considered older, but more archaic, given that the concept of postness is clearly there and does not have a prefix, is an answer to why we need it so much.

It is, then, ironic that Parsons' attack on the idea of a gathering storm did more than any single contemporary to document the idea, that the could be, a gathering storm, and a fundamental pattern, which was visible despite all other defects from what comes later.

So sitting in plain sight are the pieces of pre-, post- and neo-. But they are not arranged in a formal structure which is attached to everything. As much as the English speakers of the 1600's loved Latinate construction of words, they did not apply any of these words in the same way. Neo- meant, really, just post an event, as in neonate. Pre- and post- were used in a more legalistic way, and not as specifically rendered in time. It is the 19th century that develops and uses aggressively these words in a way we would see now as being like our current usage, with dozens of uses first attested starting in the mid 19th century, after a trickle in the early 19th century.

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Submitted by CMike on

Wikipedia says:

>>>>>>>On 8 June 1783, a fissure with 130 craters opened with phreatomagmatic explosions because of the groundwater interacting with the rising basalt magma. Over a few days the eruptions became less explosive, Strombolian, and later Hawaiian in character, with high rates of lava effusion. This event is rated as VEI 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, but the eight month emission of sulfuric aerosols resulted in one of the most important climatic and socially repercussive events of the last millennium.<<<<<<<

Times Online says:

>>>>>>>[A]ccording to Thor Thordarson, a volcanologist at Edinburgh University...“The frequency of Icelandic eruptions seems to rise and fall in a cycle lasting around 140 years”...

The theory is a controversial one. Gillian Foulger, professor of geophysics at Durham University, suggests that historic clusters of eruptions could well have occurred by chance. She said: “This needs rigorous statistical support.”...

The three other volcanoes cited by Thordarson as being potentially close to a large eruption are Grimsvotn, Hekla and Askja — all of which are bigger than Eyjafjallajokull.

Grimsvotn...lies under the huge Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland’s southeast...

It is linked to the massive Laki fissure volcano whose 1783 eruption ejected so much ash into the atmosphere that it cooled the entire northern hemisphere for nearly three years. The resulting low temperatures caused crop failures and famines that killed 2m people and helped trigger the French Revolution...

Some geologists have also warned of a serious threat from a fourth volcano, Katla, which lies 15 miles to the east of Eyjafjallajokull...

The most pressing question for Britain and the rest of Europe is how long [Eyjafjallajokull's] current eruption will continue....

Professor Stephen Sparks, from the earth sciences department at Bristol University, said: “Every volcano has its own personality. This particular volcano has erupted before in 1612 and 1821. When it erupted in 1821 it continued erupting for 15 months so there is no reason why it could not last a similar period of time.”

The new rules in place for aviation mean Iceland and Europe can probably cope with Eyjafjallajokull, but an eruption by Katla could cause far bigger problems....<<<<<<<

Submitted by libbyliberal on

I think Gaia is really, really pissed.


I wanted to come up with an essay saying that and you say it in seven little words. Bravo. Now I don't have to. Thank you. :)

I also need to explore more... something maybe called: Between the Devil and the Deep, Once-Blue Sea: Halliburton

What do you think?

Submitted by libbyliberal on

you say pre- post-, re timeliness ... not yin yangness? isn't your frame of a linear not non-linear world? Aren't you promoting the idea of a non-linear world above? Predetermined or random? Random. But gravitating to nihilistic?

So neo is very recently new? "Neo-liberalism" gives me the creeps but that is just Obama's hypocrisy? Or betrayal of liberal values. Neo-liberalism right now seems oxymoronic. New breed of amoralists a/k/a pragmatists. narcissists imo.

So the rise and fall and rise again of history? Redemption and atonement? Character is destiny or ... predeterminism. Where are you going?

Alice Miller, ever read her "For Your Own Good" about German poisonous pedagoguy to children and how that ripened things for Hitler?

I liked this quote very much:

Milton is locating human goodness in bonds between people that are above the bonds to abstract cause.

Are they above? Careful of that "cronyism" group think stuff. Where do the iconoclastic ones fit in?

great Byron:

And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:

How brilliant is that? God, how old was he when he penned that? Genius and at such a young age. Romantic poets and short lives. That was profound. That was a cultural and timely phenomenon then? Hmmmmm.

The apocalyptic imagination -- which you have. right? we live in a time of foreboding for sure.

this is also very interesting:

Religions argue, as in the Laments of the Neo-Sumerians, that the lord and the religion that he heads, did not have enough control, and the collapse of order that follows this is the source of evil, while revolutionaries argue almost the exact opposite, that excess of control is the problem.

Yes, I am with the revolutionaries on this one. But the yin yang control issues of the revolutionaries focusing to fight. Control organizes. Reaction formation is not freedom.

atonement? at-one-ment ... we are all so far away from that. Well, those not in the counter-culture. I want a feminine paradigm shift to partnership and cooperation. Not patriarchal power and control and competition. Women power spirals through history, not spiking up and down.

Awesomely rich all that poetic language.

Where are you going?

Scott Peck in People of Lie says that we should offer our heart as a gentle place of shelter for Jesus. (Not religiously speaking here, but spiritually.) That quote touched me.

"Hope was the last temptation of Christ." One of my favorite quotes, too.

I think we should use that quote to help us NOT underestimate the collosal levels of denial and capacity for minimization by man- and woman-kind. Peck also said "Mental health is dedication to reality at all costs." Denial ... mass denial is so friggin formidable.

Peck also said a "follower is never a whole person."

There are a lot of cold smithies of souls out there. That is the prob imvho. :) Not much values clarification going on. Your stuff is really good to inspire that.

Enjoyed the read, though should have pondered more but instead did my own stream of consciousness. Thanks for the use of the "hall"! :)