Ghosts of the Unknown

“At a speaker series event in the department where I teach, a guest medievalist gave a talk on troubadour songs. She sang a few examples and pointed out intricacies of rhyme and ambiguities of meaning. And then she acknowledged a fact that often intimidates young musicologists away from medieval studies: troubadour notation does not indicate rhythm or duration, so it is impossible for us to know exactly how this music sounded, or as she put it, is supposed to sound. And this aporia meant that we could never argue for any connection between music and lyrics, nor for any musical as opposed to textual meaning. Troubadour songs, in other words, would remain unfathomable and unperceived, an ideal of music with no satisfying reality to anchor it.”

– Joanna Demers, Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World

The above is an example of a known unknown, of a reality that we know existed but is forever closed to us behind the material barriers of time and culture, and yet it haunts us like a broken world of dreams half-perceived – traces in the ruins of some dilapidated yet existent scene. We wander among these ruins seeking truth, finding only bones and silences. Maybe we should look upon our own moment this way, as if from some spectral future, a retroactive portrayal of the ruins of time awaiting us as the catastrophe of our species’ demise becomes more and more prevalent; as the sixth extinction that we love to portray as only those others, the animals and insects, forests, vines, flowers all fade into oblivion. Like members of a blind tribe we cast our eyes into the darkness seeking solace and find none, only the fierce cries of banshee like creatures of the night and void castigating us from some imagined future, our children, and children’s children staring back at us from that void of time in the hollow-laden void of their blackened eyes as they condemn us for our inability to act.

Those on the Right will continue to deny such apocalyptic climacteric change ahead, while those on the Left will shout and speak and threaten but do nothing more. We seem like the ruination of those last men that Nietzsche once spoke of with such astute and prophetic understanding, the decadent tribe who at the end of things would even deny their own obsolescence. Apathy, indecisiveness, inaction… the passive betrayal of our own species. The decadence of blind luxuriance and immeasurable sinking’s into death’s last fold. Nihilism was nothing but this denial of the truth, this denial of reality. We’ve lived in our fictional worlds, created fantastic zones of oblivion to hide our unimaginations in. Like children in a garden we’ve scattered the seeds of the Tree of Life and chopped down its branches and dug up its roots, burned it on the pyre of ancient memories. Nothing remains. Not even the memories…

Like those medieval trouvères we sing but no one can hear us… our tongues, like dark angels deliver only the silences of our kind.

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