The Last Calendar, 2011
A calendar is a clean slate for predictions, the grid that guides us through time. One could view the entries in a calendar as small-scale prophecies, since we can never know for certain if all our meetings, dinners, and trips will actually take place, but strangely enough, most of the things we mark on our calendars do in fact come true. Of course, we yearn for the reassurance of a life in which a known present leads seamlessly into an anticipated future, yet we also chafe at the deterministic contours of our existence—as the calendar fills up, its matrix now traps us in the geometry of our own planning. Who hasn’t looked at the upcoming weeks of activities and dreamed of a way to erase all these looming plans? The risk of boredom is ever-present.
In the final analysis, however, this distinctly modern sense of ennui with a life that is prescribed, even when we ourselves prescribe it, is ultimately trumped by the comfort that a filled calendar offers us. Planning has always been imperative for individuals and communities seeking to ensure their survival. Originally, prognostic instruments were crude, and those individuals dedicated to foretelling the future were considered holy mediators between mere mortals and the divine figures who determined their fate. The ancient practice of augury—a method for predicting the future from the flight of birds or the entrails of animals—is just one example of the human need to discover patterns within the formless flux of nature, to create meaning from even the most chaotic and turbulent structures of matter. Almost anything could be used by the spiritually receptive to discern what the gods had in store for us. Clouds and coffee; fig leaves and bones; ash, the boiled heads of donkeys, the movement of beetles: the inventory of raw material for divination is endless.
As the nature of the divine changed with the emergence of religions that promised cyclical regeneration or life after death, the scale of such predictions became increasingly grandiose. With the rise of eschatology, it became possible to conceive of the end of the world itself, because such a cataclysmic event could thus be understood as the basis for the realization of a new and better world (here or in heaven). Secular versions of these totalizing narratives of destruction—caused by fatal astronomical trajectories, for example, or by alien invasions—gradually emerged as well. Some of these at least afforded us the minor satisfaction that, though doomed, we would nevertheless go out as the acme of earthly evolution. Today, even this small consolation has been withdrawn as we slowly come to understand that we have precipitated a global environmental disaster that might well put an end, once and for all, to our collective calendar.
One symptom of our refusal to confront our responsibility for the incremental but very real crisis we find ourselves in is our continuing appetite for scenarios in which the end comes suddenly, dramatically, and—most importantly—in ways that are beyond our control. Witness the many believers who heeded Harold Camping’s misbegotten warnings that the world would end on 21 May 1988, and later on 7 September 1994, 21 May 2011, and 21 October 2011. We are writing this a few days before this last date, and we are assuming Camping’s track record will hold. We’ve therefore decided to focus on next year’s hot pick for the apocalypse, based on an “interpretation” of the Maya Long Count calendar, the current cycle of which ends, as does this calendar, on 21 December 2012. To commemorate this (next) finale, we offer a calendar on which we have helpfully marked some of the many days previously imagined to be humanity’s last. Featuring the art of Bigert & Bergstöm photographed by Charlie Drevstam, think of this calendar illustrating various methods of divination as a guide to the days of the coming year, whether or not they are our last.
The Last Calender is published by Cabinet Books and to order it, click here.