Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Happy ever after

Could we be missing the point just a little when we use the label 'post-apocalyptic' for a setting, or for a type of fiction like D&D? And missing it always, regardless of specifics?

Blood of Prokopius flicked the ponder switch here, referencing a post at Grognardia.

Unless the principles shaping a setting or fiction type prevent there being successive waves of identifiable development and decline, or eventually remove any perceptible legacy of the process, a world will always evolve until recognisable to some degree as post-something, whether the end of that something was actually apocalyptic or not.

If we're talking more about the mental atmosphere in a setting or associated with a type, it's natural that in moving into a future the occupants will look into the past, for things of value like knowledge. Assuming of course there's an awareness of a future at all.

It's also natural that as creators or participants we will project our approaches onto a thing, populating it with our interests and hang-ups, and that if they think like us, the occupants will presumably also comprehend the loss and be intrigued by it. Maybe a sense there is or has been something better, proof we can have it too - or can't.

It's possible to imagine 'post-creation' fiction, in which the thing that's past is only the very beginning, and even a time which wouldn't ever become myth, legend or history if conditions didn't let it develop, leave a record or survive. It's also possible to imagine a 'pseudo-post-apocalyptic' type in which a false record is created, which would add a twist to delving and discovering - if recognising the truth is allowed by the principles.

Going beyond that, what if the possibility of successive waves of development and decline itself were prevented by the overall framework? Could a thing with no possibility of change, no time, be attractive? How would we express and experience it?

Could it be that settings are 'post-apocalyptic' in the broad sense of 'after an ending' because there isn't much choice otherwise? Because if they aren't, they don't interest us? And because if they aren't instead simply 'post-creation', we can't know them? 

Lots of questions. I feel like I'm overreaching a bit, and that I've overlooked something crucial. But I'm ready to be set right. We are fallible after all, and it seems we know it.


Trey said...

I think most fantasy settings are post-apocalyptic in the sense that they're after some sort of fall--there has been a lessening or dwindling (and in many works, it continues).

However, that's not true of some prominent settings (like Lankhmar or CAS's Hyperborea (where the apocalypse is coming)). Other settings, like the Hyborian Age, R. Scott Bakker's Three Seas, and the real world have puntuated rises and falls. Any apocalypse is only "minor" and temporary.

I think the world after some sort of ending is embedded in Western thought with Greek myth, Judeo-Christian belief, and our historical narrative about the fall of Rome--but I don't think its our only setting narrative, even in fantasy.

Von said...

"Going beyond that, what if the possibility of successive waves of development and decline itself were prevented by the overall framework? Could a thing with no possibility of change, no time, be attractive? How would we express and experience it?"

Gallifrey. Or... what's Moorcock's city at the centre of everything, in Silverheart... Karadur-Shriltasi, I think. The Panopticon, the place at the centre of everything that watches, and is, but doesn't intervene. It's something that's opposed, fled from, and occasionally threatened by forces of extreme destruction. You might say 'pre-apocalyptic', if you like; it's the prospect of change coming to changelessness that gives us an angle from which to experience it.

Porky said...

One thing to clarify is that this thinking certainly isn't understanding 'post-apocalyptic' as 'soon after the ending', only 'after an ending', in the sense that there are remains to explore, relics to find. This follows up the tack taken at Blood of Prokopius, where it's mentioned as a basic premise of D&D, and at Grognardia, where it's suggested in the quote. Approaching it like this of course, we gloss over the nature of the ending, accepting it might not have been sudden and dramatic, maybe not even relatively so, and that not all of the occupants, if any, would necessarily know its nature, or even be aware of it.

As an aside, I find the idea of a 'non-apocalypse' much more compelling. A slow, complex collapse is far harder to imagine, and perhaps deal with, with multiple forms of erosion, recycling and reference, conflicting interpretations and motivations. A poem by Miłosz has the opening lines "Bees build around red liver, / Ants build around black bone." and this hints at the fine-grained nature. This also highlights that a major thing declining is likely woven of all kinds of strands, and that individual strands could be affected in different ways, many perhaps surviving.

One aspect I didn't consider in the post which ties in with this more intricate view is geographic spacing - how far an area of decline might overlap with other areas of different nature or experience.

Getting back to the point, I wouldn't dare claim all settings were post-apocalyptic, even by the broad definition used. As mentioned, the obvious exceptions to the form are those settings between creation and the first decline - if a decline can even come - or those which always have been and always will. I'm very interested in this too - what framework or form of intervention would prevent certain kinds of increasing complication?

I think the examples of this are good ones, but we still exerience change in them, and they do change, in the sense of actors moving and interacting. To take the Doctor Who example, development and decline are still possible, with worlds built and lost, and civilisations destroyed. An order is being maintained or imposed, a process of response to feedback, whenever the information comes from.

Of those settings after creation and waiting for a decline, our presenting or accepting them as 'pre-apocalypse' also suggests some deep-rooted interest in the subject. I agree Western thought is saturated with this and that's the likely source of the interest in many cases.

Our hobbies are something to ponder here. How far is creating or participating in a world which references apocalypse cathartic? How far potentially useful, in the sense of building awareness, or helping develop prevention or survival strategies? How far could it even be ushering in a decline, by drawing the energies of intelligent people away from events beyond the participation? Or stronger, suggesting to us that an overall decline is inevitable?

Arlee Bird said...

Interesting questions that are far too intricate for me to wrap my brain around this morning, but you have planted some seeds that I'm sure are to sprout in my mind later. Wow!

Tossing It Out

Porky said...

That's good to read.

As for the intricacy, I sometimes have the same trouble when I come back to things like this. The points get so complex sometimes that language falls behind, and even I can't always tease the intended meaning out.

One of the great things about a blog is the record of past discussions it leaves. They're all there just waiting to be revisited, to renew a passion or find new inspiration.