How the Revolution Began

After reading Julian Baggini’s piece on burning the Encyclopædia Britannica in Aeon Magazine, I couldn’t resist reposting this story about book-burning that I wrote way back (as one of my series of Yijing-based stories), and that was published on Necessary Fiction back in 2010. The story was called ‘How the Revolution Began’, and featured not a blazing encyclopaedia, but instead whole libraries of burning books, culminating in a set of blazing dictionaries.




First they banned novels, because they said — reasonably enough — that the world was complicated enough and the problems of the world grave enough, without the distraction of imagined worlds and non-existent problems. I was a young man back then. I remember standing outside the City Hall and watching the people bring cart-loads of dreams, fantasies and imaginings to fuel the pyres set up by the authorities. And perhaps I was not alone in feeling a kind of glee at the sight of those cheery orange and yellow flames, at the satisfying crackle of paper going up in smoke.

Afterwards, it was strange how quickly we adjusted. We got used to reading other things on the bus as we travelled to work. We filled the empty spaces on our shelves with ornaments. We got by.

Two years later, they outlawed books of poetry. There were protests, mainly from the poets themselves, but the reasoning of the authorities was sound: light verse, they said, was inconsequential; ballads were stories in disguise, and thus should, for the sake of consistency, go the same way as novels; love lyrics fostered delusion; sonnets were impossibly elitist; limericks inclined the mind to disrespect; and haiku — well, haiku were just downright odd, and foreign with it. Besides, nobody had read any poetry for years, even if — unaccountably — there were many who persisted in writing it. Read more

Knowledge and Friendship at the End of the World

The following post was first published on the old version of From time to time, I’ll be republishing essays that disappeared from my old website when I switched over from Textpattern to WordPress a year or so back. The post had its origins in a paper that I gave at a conference on the apocalypse in literature at Westminster University in 2011.

When it comes to the ways that we think about the apocalypse, we are often inclined to moralise the end of the world. From Noah’s flood, to zombie apocalypses caused by the hubris of scientists, to the various kinds of environmental disasters that may or may not face us, our stories about the end of the world often have the distinct air of moral retribution for past misdemeanours. But there are certain kinds of apocalypse – amongst which can be numbered apocalypse by comet – that have nothing to do with blame and responsibility, nothing to do with how virtuous we are or not. These are endings that simply are, or at least that might be. Read more


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