Monday, 10 May 2010

Far North

Why don't we all just kill ourselves?

Seriously: why do we carry on, day after day in full knowledge of our own personal insignificance and the life's general pointlessness? Everyday we avoid oblivion is just one step closer to the yawning embrace of the grave, the eventual extinction of the human race and even the heat death of the universe itself.

People give themselves reasons to carry on. For some it's belief in an afterlife, for others ambition to do good, or maybe you can fetishize it in the shape of children and an imagined line of descendants who will never think of you, never know your name. How do we get up every morning and get dressed, face the thousand tiny indignities and humiliations that life and age and time heap on us, more and more with each passing year?

When it boils down to it, we are pathologically invested in our continued life. There are those that say they don't want to live forever, and yet day-by-day, they too cling to life and when, exactly, will they be able to say "enough, I'm done"?

I myself am very much in favour of immortality, but I don't have much faith in it. I'm rapidly approaching what will, in all likelihood, be the mid-point of my life. It's all down hill from here, physically, and I don't think there's much of consequence in the world that I haven't felt or seen or done, so why carry on?

I think that's the question that Marcel Theroux raises in Far North. Makepeace inhabits a world of very few comforts. The post-apocalypse landscape offers no rest or comfort, she's seen too much to hold on to the faith of her long-dead parents, and in the opening movement of the novel she's even denied the companionship of a family. Yet when she comes to end it all, she can't do it: a plane flies over head, and fills her with hope of a reborn world.

She clings to that hope to keep her going through the subsequent years of hardship and brutality of the following, and when she finds the longed-for plane, what does it reveal? Not civilization reborn, but savage remnants clinging to the remains of the dead civilization with merciless tenacity.

Makepeace sees the futulity of hanging on, but finally, life - desperate, stubborn life - blossoms in her. There's a religious quality about the final passges. As Makepeace finally finds solace in those things that keep us all going - the comfort of work, someone who needs them and, ultimately, a numinous sense of the landscape around her. Maybe it's all a delusional pass-time that distracts us from crushing purposeless of life in between the times we're following our programming and passing on our genes, but it's still better than the alternative.

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