On Junot Diaz’s “Apocalypse”

Yesterday I talked about the Boston Review, but I did not talk about the featured article – “Apocalypse” by Junot Diaz. (Who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and teaches at MIT and reads the manga Monster in his spare time.)

And realized that this article should be required reading – for everyone. And I mean EVERYONE. Especially everyone in the “First World.” That’s a cue. I’ll summarize it here, and then everyone should READ IT. Here’s the link – there’s another link after the summary as well.

Diaz opens with the Haitian earthquake that occurred in January 2010. He reminds us of numbers that are just staggering – I’ll put it here in his words:

“The figures vary, but an estimated 220,000 people were killed in the aftermath of the quake, with hundreds of thousands injured and at least a million—one-tenth of Haiti’s population—rendered homeless. According to the Red Cross, three million Haitians were affected. It was the single greatest catastrophe in Haiti’s modern history. It was for all intents and purposes an apocalypse.”

Diaz then goes on to describe the three definitions of an apocalypse. He refers to James Berger’s “On the End,” which succinctly defines the three meanings of the word apocalypse as something that “is the end, or resembles the end, or explains the end.” Diaz says that Haiti’s apocalypse can fit the latter definition – that it is “revelatory.”

Diaz argues that the Haitian earthquake is not just an isolated tragedy – it is a predictor of things to come. He says that the occurrence and the degree of devastation it wrecked cannot be blamed on the Haitian people, or on fate, a “natural disaster” – it is a consequence of how the First World has historically oppressed and siphoned off of the Third World, rising income inequality that persists in spite of and because of so called “globalization” efforts that in reality make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and deforestation by the poor because they were starving – deforestation that ruined their natural systems and made arable lands non-arable and left Haiti without a natural buffer and defense against natural events (which aren’t always disasters, or shall we say apocalypses…). Diaz calls the Haitian situation a “social disaster.” He argues that there is no such thing as a “natural disaster” – they are all “social disasters” when income inequality and the historical events and decisions – our countries’ and people’s – decisions that cause that inequality existed and exist. And if we don’t change our ways, we’ll just see more and more “social disasters” – until we start getting around to the first definition of the Apocalypse. Or, at least half of the world does.

“Apocalypse” by Junot Diaz on Boston Review

Anyway, definitely read it! It’s one of the strongest reminders I’ve ever read that problems don’t just disappear when the media gets bored of them. It also states and reinforces the need for fundamental changes in the way our society is run and thinks. And if you scoff at environmentalism… we’re all part of the same global ecosphere, whether we like it or not, and when we use up our “resources” we’re harming our “future children” and millions (billions) of poor right now because of it. And we’re not counting the number of species that go extinct with this argument. But, don’t both of these effects that we keep having and making, the fact that we keep making them even after we know WHAT we’re doing, with politicians and corporations talking about how “humanitarian and modern and global and doing the best for the people” they are and our believing it – aren’t they practically the same thing? Does our apathy in practice for other people that are “out of sight, out of mind” and our apathy for animals and other forms of life – don’t they look like, perhaps, the exact same thing?

This is the video that I think of when I think of this kind of topic… Posted because I believe the lyrics (below) fit with this topic like bread and butter. Or, for the vegans, almond butter.


Here are the lyrics, directly from this site that translated them.

“i’m not pretending, its not a show
it has always been this kind of landscape painting
the future thats brought about by a paintbrush
we are going to stain the world

theres no way to make up, its much too faint
this is the scene thats in my mind
the unforgettable promise that is made
even that will cease and just disappear

even the soft drizzle that seems to caress my face is determined enough to get by everyday

who are you
galileo galilei?
the landscape painting that nobody can draw
what is righteous and what is sadness
we are going to stain the world

i’m not pretending, its not a show
we shouldn’t be joking about this
the promise that no one can make
thats the only thing i’m proud of

the vivid image of you, have i lost sight of even that too?
the crybaby’s rainy sky that seems to strike on the window gets by everyday

aa… i’ve lost something
see, my loss opens up and swallows me down
the shell that was swept away by the waves on the beach
at the bottom of the ocean the thoughts still keep piling up

i’m not pretending, its not a show
it has always been this kind of landscape painting
the unforgettable promise that we made
thats the only thing i’m proud of

the summer rain projected on the heart too has already stopped crying
even the soft drizzle that seems to caress my face is determined enough to get by everyday”

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