FlyTitle: Postcards from doomsday

Mark O’Connell’s postcards from doomsday are oddly uplifting


FOR MUCH of human history, Mark O’Connell points out in “Notes from an Apocalypse”, the world has been about to end. As St Augustine observed in the fifth century, the earliest followers of Jesus believed themselves to be living in the last days of creation. In the centuries since, humans have faced plagues and fires and floods and earthquakes and wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation—perpetually proclaiming the end of days. All the while, the world has continued spinning on its axis. But, the author asks, amid an increasingly irreversible climate crisis, what if now really is the end?

马克·奥康奈尔在《末世笔记》(Notes from an Apocalypse)一书中指出,在人类历史的大部分时间里,世界都快要走向毁灭。正如奥古斯丁在五世纪所记述的,耶稣最早的追随者相信自己生活的这个世界已时日无多。之后的几个世纪,人类面临过瘟疫、火灾、洪水、地震、战争以及核毁灭的威胁——它们时时刻刻都在宣告末日的到来。然而一直以来,世界还在继续绕着地轴转动。但是,作者问道,鉴于世界正陷入一场日益不可逆转的气候危机之中,万一这一次末日真的来临了呢?

When he began writing this book, Mr O’Connell says, he was depressed, a malaise brought on by an obsession with the future—or rather, with the possible lack of it. He pondered the individual’s role in the age of climate change, and his own responsibilities as a father. “I couldn’t sneeze without thinking it was a portent of end times,” he writes. He was spending too much time on the internet (he had set his home-page to an online forum devoted to the topic of “collapse”). In the grip of this doomsday spiral, Mr O’Connell set out to probe both the reality and the idea of the looming crisis, embarking on what he calls “a series of perverse pilgrimages”.


He delves into the internet subculture of “preppers”, a group mostly comprising American men who stockpile freeze-dried food and guns. He treks to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where a property magnate is hawking survivalist bunkers, and stops at a Mars Society Convention in California. He goes on a nature retreat with a group that believes Western civilisation is destined to disintegrate and seeks alternative forms of society. For his best chapter, he goes to the ruins of Chernobyl and considers the ironies of apocalypse tourism.


经济学人双语版-末日已至 This is the end

These vignettes offer a fascinating insight into a species obsessed with its own demise—and into the ways humankind is trying to confront the hard-to-bear reality of climate change. These range from the absurd (colonisation of Mars), to the selfish (billionaires buying up New Zealand), to the poignant (difficult conversations with young children). Along the way, Mr O’Connell moves nimbly between scenes and eras, skipping from the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz to a history of the Grand Tour. It helps that he is funny, too. Oddly, all these ruins leave him feeling more peaceful, though the process of parenting might also have helped.

这些小故事趣味盎然地引领读者窥探一个沉迷于自身消亡无法自拔的物种,以及人类正如何试图对抗气候变化这一难以承受的现实。这些方法多种多样,有的荒诞(殖民火星),有的自私(亿万富翁大举到新西兰置业),有的沉重(与年幼的孩子开展艰难的对话)。奥康奈尔敏捷自如地穿行于不同的场景和时代,从切斯瓦夫·米沃什(Czeslaw Milosz)的诗歌跳跃到壮游(Grand Tour)的历史。他还很风趣,这一点很加分。奇怪的是,游历了所有这些废墟后,他心境反而更平和了,不过育儿的过程可能也有帮助。 

Readers, for their part, will emerge feeling doomed—yet oddly uplifted. “The fact that the world is continuing on as always—that the sun is shining, and the bees circling the clover, and the tomatoes ripe in the fields—doesn’t mean it hasn’t already come to an end,” Mr O’Connell reflects. One of the strengths of his book is that it simultaneously makes the reverse of that proposition clear: the world is ending, and, as usual, it is carrying on. “Notes from an Apocalypse” was written before the covid-19 pandemic, but it offers a timely if eccentric consolation all the same. ■