The End of the World Might Not Have Taken Place

Saturday 17 April 2021
by  NLLG

The End of the World Might Not Have Taken Place

Dalkey Archive Press, 2019

 The Future of the World

The future isn’t what it used to be. You must have noticed this yourself: the future isn’t what it used to be.

In the past, the future mainly unfolded according to one of the following modalities:

[1] The world would end, and everything would start again from zero, creating an identical world—the pessimistic version of most belief systems.

[2] The world would end in a horrifying and final bloodbath, from which would arise a world of bliss—the optimistic version of some religions.

[3] The world would never end, and bliss, which acted as the leavening agent, would continue to increase until the end of days, which were themselves infinitely extendable—the foolhardy version of the ends of History.

But at the beginning of the twenty-first century these theories had run their course. Forecasts had changed. All people endowed with a certain understanding of the facts on the ground agreed on one point: no matter how you imagine it, it’s going to end badly. Either in a horrible bloodbath followed by nothing at all—the optimistic hypothesis. Or by bloodbaths here and there, followed by more bloodbaths here and there, without end, until the universe expands to the point that it becomes infinitely dense, which would in turn precipitate the destruction of the galaxies and the poor miserable wretches who live there. Some observers added a supplementary aspect: a concomitant and heretofore inconceivable dulling of humanity.

 Gaspard and the Bombing

Gaspard was born on February 13, 1955, on the tenth anniversary of the bombing of the German city of Dresden by the Allied forces. The Germans and the Allies were at war back then. Later, when Gaspard was born, the Allies and most Germans had also become allies. He was born in a small village in the flat, gloomy countryside of northern France. I don’t recall the village’s name. His older sister died in an accident at the age of five, when he was three. Now the only child in a relatively well-to-do family, he felt the vague desire to please, as best he could, his parents, who were traumatized by what the neighbors called their family tragedy. Up to the age of fourteen or fifteen he would speak to his dead sister and ask her advice. Then he stopped speaking to her. High school in Lille, then university studies in Anglo-American Literature and Culture at the Sorbonne in Paris. His thesis, which he never completed, examined three of four novels by an American writer from the 1930s, Nathanael West: Miss Lonelyhearts, A Cool Million, and The Day of the Locust. The thesis shows an evolution in West’s writing: in the first novel America is heading steadily toward its ruin, in the second it’s plunging into a nightmare, the third ends at the edge of the Apocalypse. The end of the world already. After quitting school he spent nearly three years in the United States, where he met up with some people from the underground— what else. It was during this time that he also met the niece of the future President of the United States, an encounter that would later change his life for several months. They met at a rock concert.

Where else.

In those amiable days, America fought against communism and Soviet imperialism in the name of democracy and the free market, and communism fought against American imperialism and capitalism in the name of the proletariat and the end of History. The rest of the world had but limited importance.

Back in France, Gaspard began working as a translator. Besides the immeasurable amount of dross that his editors had him translate, he had been successful in imposing on them several authors who were dear to his heart: Donald Barthelme, Joan Didion, Richard Brautigan, and Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut was the author of a book on the bombing of Dresden, Slaughterhouse-Five. The bombing of Dresden had killed more people than the atomic bomb dropped six months later on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, but it was less well known. These deaths were the result of an ordinary weapon. The atomic bomb on the other hand was sublimely spectacular, and it’s in the nature of spectacular things to be more enthralling than a simple death toll. For every death during the twentieth century, on average 2.55 human lives appeared on Earth, whereas the spectacles that left a lasting impression on the imagination were, when all was said and done, few and far between.

That night approximately 100,000 people were killed in the Dresden bombings.

For the first time 255,000 newborns cried out in fear.

But Gaspard had not yet been born.

 Big Bertha and Me

Now as for me, I was born on the twelfth day of August on the forty-fifth anniversary of the day that Big Bertha, a cannon with a 12.5-kilometer range, was put into service. This happened in 1914. At the time the Germans and the Allies were at war. An eminently modern war—people had noticed that the more cannons there were, the fewer the casualties. Over the course of several months the number of cannons increased while the casualties decreased. This perturbed several conservative generals but pleased the troops. Except the equipment that brought about the reduction in losses contributed, by its very essence, in prolonging war and therefore in increasing losses. All things considered, a good old brawl with sabers or machetes is definitely much more charitable.

I was born in Prague, a city dear to those whose souls, in order to flourish, require decadence. It was the capital of a country whose name is impossible to remember, Czechoslovakia. Too long—once it has more than three syllables, unless you’ve won or lost an important war, a country doesn’t exist.


Let’s return to Gaspard. We met at a translation conference in Arles, a city in France, the country in which we both resided at the time. Both of us were outstanding translators. Excellence exists, even if it can only be recognized by fellow brothers in excellence. The mediocre ones will always be quick to criticize, in frustration when their mediocrity is partial, in ineptitude when it’s absolute.

Problem is, this professional excellence invariably leads to what one could call difficulty making ends meet, but since this is freelance work as they say, the ends can pop up quite unexpectedly. Gigs on the side are a necessity. Gaspard supplemented his income by composing advertising slogans for a spirits company, Pernod-Ricard, which produced PERNOD, RICARD, PASTIS 51, SUZE, SOHO, SCRUE, and so on. He was the author of several slogans that struck a chord with the public.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.

Some of his other suggestions had been rejected by the head of marketing.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.

Drink Responsibly. Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health was a disclaimer required by law for any advertisement. For want of a new war on European soil, something had to be found to distract the people, and nothing distracts the people better than knowing they’re in danger.

Later, Gaspard had become, completely by accident and only for the span of eight months, advisor to the stupidest American President in history. He had moved to the United States. He then had returned to France with enough in the bank to support his lifestyle for a good long while. This had happened at the very beginning of the last century of the Christian era.

More prosaically, I on the other hand became a writer. Consequently, my primary occupation consisted of organizing what are referred to as writing workshops, during which I made people who wished to obtain the status of creative believe that it was within their reach.

Translated by Alexander Hertich