Notes for a Radio Show About the End of the World - An Essay by Bill Morelock

by Bill Morelock, Minnesota Public Radio
July 16, 2012

St. Paul, Minn. — In 1965, Walker Percy published an essay called Notes for a Novel about the End of the World. It was a purely philosophical piece, but Percy must have been percolating notions about an application of the idea, since the framework he laid out became the novel Love in the Ruins a few years later.

Since Apocalypse is a perennial spectator (speculator?) sport — ironic notion, that — I wondered if we might not sketch out something similar for a radio show. Again, purely theoretical, but if the notes turn out to be a practical blueprint for an actual broadcast artifact, so be it.

First, a clarification, this is not a 2012 Mayan calendar end of the world we're talking about, or a rapture, or a nuclear exchange. It's an unnamed something, the aftermath (or the midst) of which includes a certain hunkering down, a complicated negotiation with environments both cultural and natural, and — as in Percy's essay and novel — with the requisite vines coming up in the cracks of shopping mall parking lots.

Instead, we'll call it the end of a certain world, and such endings happen all the time, with ever greater frequency. The end of certain habits of thought kept alive within the bright, warm, but impermanent nest of the Zeitgeist. Made of cultural materials analogous to straw, that haven's built to fail at the first vandalizing zephyr.

So if you want to hold on to ways of thinking that already feed you, move you, make you laugh, marvel, exult (or you want to find them) — best to build with brick, and keep the New and Newer cooling their heels in a skeptical outbuilding until you can determine whether they really have anything to recommend them.

Let's not go too far afield and say the program involved classical music. There's bedrock below it, a solid if modest structure hundreds and hundreds of years old. But there's this difference: the music is part of a mosaic of art forms, playing a crucial role in the overall effect, but not the focus. This seems reasonable, if only because it reflects "reality," which is mixed — hopelessly or triumphantly, depending on your view. The content of the mix may vary — poetry, history, the aesthetics of sculpture, cocktail recipes, baseball statistics, sonatas in a minor key. A mixed mix. Whimsy chooses and orders, and the result is probably less chaotic than it sounds. The mere form of a radio show bottles up, attenuates the natural urge towards complexity.

The host, falling short of a complex ideal, might compensate with tangent, qualification, wandering, backtracking. Think Jack Paar, armed with Brahms, Yeats, Jonas Salk ("Would you patent the sun?"), Chaucer, Klimt, Ruth, Gherig, Cervantes, and Perotin the Great, instead of celebrity guests.

This is a radio show of strong joy and abiding sadness. It's about the end of the world, after all. Sadness is more or less organic to the enterprise. And it's a strenuous, bracing exercise. We're building something, after all. I'm not completely sure what it is. But I imagine it's something essential to the operation of our individual (and therefore solitary) psyches as we face this end, or ending. It's serious play, and it's a carnival of study. Generous, generative, joyous, and full of love and grief. It's a place to live for the long term. I wish there were an app for that. But there's not.

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