I just finished reading P.D. James' Children of Men. The film isn't out here and I was intrigued by the preview and by IT's post about it earlier this fall. The book is too short--I'm disappointed that it's over (as with the terrific Intepretation of Murder by Jeb Rubenfeld, a great read, a combination of Dora's case and The Da Vinci Code). Anyway, the premise of Children of Men is that people lose the capacity to reproduce.
What would it mean for there to be no more children? In Children of Men the last children are born in 1995. There are simply no more pregnancies. Even frozen sperm have lost any vitality. I found myself wondering about cloning, not buying that in vitro fertilization wouldn't work. My reaction surprised me--like an underlying conviction in science and medicine, or, more strongly, a conviction in humankind, in humans' ability to persevere and to conquer anything through science. But this is precisely what is lacking in the book--no explanation, no possibility, no future. An emptiness marked by the loss of a future, the loss of children.
No more playgrounds or toy stores. The last generation moving through schools which are then boarded up or repurposed. Initial efforts to solve the problem as well as initial warfare, chaos, and espionage, are ultimately abandoned in the wake of an overwhelming global ennui. In a way, it's a strange sort of big Other--a big Other that knows that it is dying, that it will not exist. This makes me think differently again about the non-existence of the big Other today--it may not exist, but it posits its existence in the future.
Commerce, it seems, grinds slowly to a stop. The last cars are made about 15 years after the last generation is born. There is a geriatric science and various evangelists appear from time to time offering if not hope then at least momentary respite from the gray present. Academics give courses for adults. Apparently, the state sponsors pornography--people have lost interest in sex. Adults from less privileged countries are shipped in as guest workers and treated horribly. People become even more involved with their pets. Anglicans argue over whether pets can be christened. Could there be a stock market, a bond market, without a future? Mortgages? Is this a variation of the only way to imagine a end to capitalism? Imagining only a lack?
What would it mean to live with no hope of any future? Not just one's own future but any future for humanity? I hadn't thought before how hard such a thing is to imagine. It isn't the same as a choice not to have children--it's a world which will simply stop. Or not quite--it will go on, nature will go on, but not human culture. Some nations try preparing time capsules and monuments and stores of information marking their accomplishments, messages to those who might come later, from other planets.
The book mentions that within 15 years of the present in which it occurs 90 percent of the population of England will be over the age of 80. Measures are being taken to provide central locations with adequate water, electricity, and provisions in the last years. The promise of the government is no fear, no suffering (or something like that), and no boredom. The last seems particularly hard to guarantee.
Would we go on if we knew we were the last ones? And what would we do? I rarely allow myself to imagine that people in the future will read my books. I know my place in the academic food change. But, perhaps those rare imaginings, those additions to footnotes in future dissertations are not nothing. Even the extra voice or drop or hand among many others is one I imagine in the light of a future.