I recently read Edward Abbey’s Good News. The book describes post-apocalyptic skirmishes between good and evil in America. Some kind of nuclear war destroyed civilization. The West is wild again. I have not been able to find good discussion of this book on the Internet; I have a dim hope that this post will initiate some. I wrote an essay about the book, but I am only going to post a small portion of it.
Abbey makes frequent mention of brand names being dead and buried in the sand. Cars that used to be expensive and cherished line all lanes of the highway attempting to escape from Phoenix. Abbey mentions these decayed brands to show their insignificance and transience. The post-apocalyptic world does not value them. It doesn’t care for them. Human necessity and roots do not give a damn about them. They are transient. Abbey wrote:
They ride at a brisk walking pace, due west, up the broad avenue littered with fragments of paper and glass, flanked now with dehydrated palm trees, abandoned automobiles, decaying office buildings with sagging walls of lathing, chicken wire, stucco, crumbling bastions of cinderblock. Old voices speak from dangling signs, dead for a decade: Lou Grubb Chevrolet: “the Friendly Folks”; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; Ace Liquors; Goldwater’s; Ramada Inn East’ Fannin Makes It Move!; Big Surf; Food Giant; Yellow Front; Checker Auto Parts; McDonalds: “Over Two Hundred Billion Served”; Denny’s; Valley National Bank; No-Tel Motel: “Adult Movies in Every Room” . . .
Abbey’s description of decayed decadence reminded me of a poem taught to me by John Bottiglieri in my High School English class. Thanks, Mr. Bottiglieri. I coincidentally saw him a couple of weeks ago at the Ebert Film Festival. We attended Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg. It’s a cool and weird movie, my preferred flavor.
Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a poem called Ozymandias in 1818. I love it. Ozymandias is another name for Pharaoh Ramesses the Great. The poem reveals the transience of power. It implicitly argues that ideas, like Shelley’s poem itself, endure. The genuine kings of humanity write or speak about ideas. The student rebels in Good News cherish the one remaining music record that they have. The piano player only wishes to play beautiful classical music until humans regain their sanity. Shelley purportedly wrote the poem for a friendly competition with Horace Smith. They wrote on the same subject and published their poems in the same magazine. I prefer Shelley’s poem. I was not aware of Smith’s poem, but it coincidentally relates to Good News. The conclusion of Smith’s poem has a “Hunter” wondering at the ruins of London in what could be a post-apocalyptic world or simply the fall of London as a major city. I have copied the two poems below:
Ozymandias – Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias – Smith
IN Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.