Suppose you are told of a catastrophe. It will come at a time, a time not far off, and after it there will be nothing left. It cannot be stopped. What do you do? It can be fought, but you know that no effort will put it off. Slow it, maybe. For an infinitesimal period it might be made to pause. But no more.
It will come soon. Between now and then all life is contained, a winking light in the darkness. No. That image is incorrect, somehow. What life is, what you now sense it is, is a small dark clot trying to hold itself together against a burning wash of brilliance.
What do you tell the people? You might begin with your companion. The ship has been left in the harbour too long. “You go first,” your companion says, “I’ll come later.” And so you rush out to spread the word in the street, to prophesy, putting your own shadow ahead of you like a vast barge of silence. People watch from the windows, and their hands go to their mouths, to their ears. You try to stir people to action. People bring out immaculate star charts, open holes in mountains from which metal is brought out. Silos are opened and from within them missiles look mutely to the sky. Menace moves through parking lots purpling in the evening. In a convenience store a voice says, “I’m sorry, bud, but there’s no fucking point anymore.”
You look on at this sense of great striving everywhere. Your companion stands with you at the window wondering where everyone has gone. “You know,” your companion says, “I feel that something has been lost in translation.” The sailors clamour and wonder why their vessel, untethered now, refuses to move. In the convenience store the cash register is open and ants pour out of it. The coolant in the refrigerator runs bright red. “I don’t know,” you say.
You both go down to have a sunset to yourselves all over again. In the sky there are big things to put off the catastrophe. You think of all the purpose your message has created, how everyone has been brought together, how much work has been done. The sun as it goes down cracks in two and spills its innards onto the flat of the horizon, like honey. Maybe something has gone wrong. The world split open on the skin of your thumb. In distant hangars industrial robots waver uncertainly, their tasks still incomplete. Shadowplay. An oil tanker turns its prow to the sky and takes off like a V2 rocket. Many years ago your companion told you this is how the years would be overreached, and how you two would ultimately remain together.
Maybe you do not tell the people anything. The days must go on as before. After all this time maybe perfection has been reached and there is nothing to be gained from this knowledge. People sit defensively with their coffee, caught in Styrofoam realities too important, surely, to be shared. Cars come and go from the parking lot, steaming in indignance. Ships rust. The foundations are laid for new buildings. Maybe this is all there is to us, you think, and that is good. It is wrong, the idea that an animal is in some sense incomplete, and to be pitied. The nose touches the new grass. All of us before we are put out in the breezy fullness of being. This indistinctness is not to be solved. Plain water condenses on cans of beer left on the sidewalk for reasons as of yet unknown. The neighbour’s heating is not working. Planes parcel up the sky. A vehicle whose name you do not know moves down the street, laying new asphalt. Your companion kisses you on the cheek. The kiss smells of asphalt.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? This question is often asked as a way of illustrating, it seems, some type of irresolute paradox. The answer to this question is in fact to be found in its very description: one object cannot stop, and the other cannot move. So the moving one continues moving, and the one that cannot move stays still. They pass through each other. They do not interact. It is all in the very description. It follows without any gap. This is the fact of absoluteness, of power: it is only blindness to or ignorance of certain other facts, and most of all to other great powers. We do not acknowledge this. We ask of great powers that they move against each other. But their natures have no need or heed of our desire for spectacle. The spectacle is elsewhere or otherwise too small and too embedded in us to be seen.