In the universe of Charles Pierce, the decade just discarded was not a keeper. It’s hard to argue otherwise, but in the hands of the unerringly unsettling Pierce, the litany of catastrophes—9/11, war, war again, Katrina, and the economic collapse—takes a back seat to worry about our ever-increasing distance from reality. In his Esquire article “The First 3,650 Days,” Pierce suggests that even the catastrophes have become “part of a past we have become too busy to reflect on, much less understand.”
Pierce goes for Biblical references in a modern context—in one case, an image of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse showing up on NORAD screens. He builds up to the language and cadence of a stemwinder sermon: “And yet the towers fell and the city drowned and the economy ate itself.” But a greater sense of uneasiness comes from the opening and closing image of the silver dirigible from the Balloon Boy hoax floating by, drawing our attention, undecipherable and inescapable.
Read a few Pierce pieces in a row, and you’ll start to feel uncomfortable with the world, like it’s failed you in some deceitful way in the past, or perhaps is doing so right this minute. Or maybe you’re failing it. In his article from 2001 about the Hubble Mission, Pierce describes the telescope looking out of the corner of its eye and squinting to see things that can’t be seen head on. Maybe it’s a squint, and maybe it’s a wink, but that’s Charles Pierce. Welcome to the first Notable Narrative of the next decade.
[Tomorrow, we’ll post our interview with Pierce, who talks about the limitations of hope and misidentifying editors.]