Over the last few months, I’ve been making final revisions to my first full length novel, The Killbug Eulogies. The original draft has been around a while—the earliest notes are dated 2011!—but the story seems more real now than when I wrote it. The characters, like those in my favorite space operas, fight to save the galaxy against overwhelming odds. These heroes, however, sense they are going to lose. Humanity faces eradication at the hands of an enemy that believes it performs the service as a favor. The mistake seems reasonable, since instead of mounting a coordinated last ditch offensive, human leaders feed each other to the wolves in petty political struggles.
With almost nothing left to hope for, soldiers deployed behind enemy lines try to find something to give meaning to what time they have left.
What matters when nothing matters anymore? What do we do in face of the destruction of everything we value, of everything we are? Characters in the book take various approaches, investing themselves in duty, religion, hedonism, self-knowledge. The pages the hardest for me to edit were the ones that seek a refuge in art—poetry, of all things! The words I wrote there felt hollow. As a response to despair, the making of beautiful things, the saying of true things, seemed to represent the most vain and useless gesture.
But as I look back over my lifetime, it has been precisely the books written during the most terrible times, in the moments before an inevitable storm, or in the wake of consummate disaster that have meant the most to me. They light the present with the courage of those who preserved the spark of humanity under the cloud of hostile forces too powerful for any person to resist alone.
To be honest, this is no comfort to me now. It seems stupid to be trying to make beautiful things.
I once read beauty is the promise of something that will never be delivered and may not have ever existed anyway. I find no fault with that definition, but I feel beauty does nevertheless matter now. Even if is an empty promise, it offers the sense that we deserve something better than the condemned condition that the time insists we submit to.
We don’t, though. We enjoy no such entitlement. Our courage has failed too many times. Far, far too often we have yielded to evil, not because we lacked the means or the strength, because it would have inconvenienced us. We can hardly make a gesture now spectacular enough to undo all of that.
But we’ll make art now, because beauty promises us something. Nothing can be worth anything until someone insists it has value. We need someone to tell the lie that becomes its own truth.
So we’ll do that, I suppose. It’s something we can do.