Let’s talk about the Apocalypse

Got your attention, didn’t I? As humans, we seem to be rather obsessed with this notion of the end of time as we know it. Beyond the actual Apocalypse, however, we also seem to be obsessed with the idea of the unknown in general – that grey area that lies just beyond our realm of understanding. We can’t help it, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. This curiosity shuttled us on the moon and drove us to split the atom. From a religious standpoint, one could even argue that the concept of gods and deities germinated in ancient humans’ desire to rationalize the shadowy corners of our world.

However, all of our actions are the aftermath of this unique desire. Science and religion, these are consequences of a mindset that has existed throughout almost all of human consciousness, pushing us to intentionally evolve beyond the pace of nature. And, as it stands today, the only real way to understand this drive is through art.

And where better to look than Romanticism? Take a look at this:

This is Joseph Turner’s painting Dolbadern Castle, painted in 1799. Chances are you’re wondering, “What’s going on in those barely indiscernible areas?” You aren’t worried so much about the how the castle itself looks here as much as you are about how it REALLY looks. As if it were a real castle, just out of view. You’re also trying to fill in the bottom right corner, attempting to reconcile in your mind the unknown landscape on the canvas with your preconceived notion of what landscape should be. And that’s the unknown. That’s the Apocalypse. That’s the grey area in your mind that painters and poets of the Romantic era sought to describe.

Percy Shelley called them poet-prophets. I disagree. These poets were simply grasping, at a deeply intuitive and almost subconscious level, what almost all of us can sense to some degree. In Part One of William Wordsworth’s The Prelude, he says, “There was a darkness-call it solitude, / Or blank desertion-no familiar shapes / Of hourly objects, images of trees… But huge and mighty forms that do not live” (lines 421-424). He isn’t predicting the future. Even taking into consideration the source comes from a memory of him as a boy, the boy Wordsworth was not predicting anything either. His senses were taking in the world at such an extent that his working mind could not process everything on a cognitive level.

The result are these forms, these images of real things, which reflect real life beyond what we consider tangible. Not all of us can be Romantic poets or painters, however, and so we are stuck clinging to prophecies about the Apocalypse to satisfy the swells of untapped figures buried within our psyche. We have to assume the end is coming, because the alternative is that life goes on forever, a concept even further beyond comprehension and ultimately unacceptable.

~ by atrevelyan on August 30, 2012.

3 Responses to “Let’s talk about the Apocalypse”

  1. Astrevelyan, you are offering a great explanation of how apocalypse occurs in art; although you never mention this, I think you are equating the apocalypse with the experience of the sublime. I am puzzled by your suggestion that Wordsworth or Shelley was trying to predict the future literally. Remember that for Shelley the poet-prophet should never be mistaken for a fortune-teller.

    • I didn’t intend to imply that Shelley and Wordsworth were trying to get a literal interpretation; rather, I was trying to say that telling the future had nothing to do with their writing.

  2. […] Let’s talk about the Apocalypse (romanticismandapocalypse.wordpress.com) […]

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