Preface to the series “Les Hommes sans Futur” (Men With No Future) by Pierre Pelot (translated by Michael Shreve)
–Thanks to Pierre Pelot for this post.
He was vertebrate, mammal and placental. His distant ancestor, back then, way back then, more than a hundred million years ago, was a little animal with bulging eyes that learned to distinguish the colors of the jungle. According to what the say.
He was a monkey.
Time passed over the transformed earth, with very violent changes that took only dozens of millions of years to affect.
The monkeys were still monkeys. But he himself had changed. He still did not have words to say it. His new name, “homo”, would come a long time afterward: with qualifiers. They would say, in turn, “habilis”, “erectus” and then “sapiens”.
He became man, but the monkeys continued to be monkeys. The break was not sudden nor was the branching off obvious. It took time.
He was intelligent man—time passed more slowly. From a stone he made a weapon, after which he hewed the stone and then he tied it to the end of an arrow. The monkey remained a monkey.
He was intelligent man. He invented powder, the washing machine, the automobile and rock stars, telematics, integral calculus, the electric toothbrush, countries, borders, the power of man over man and rival ideologies. God with a capital G, religions, the pope and the ayatollahs—traderideras; he invented, he produced, he built, he raised, manipulated, conspired, decided. He made commerce, movies and war. He laughed, hurt and cried; he felt good as man; he loved spring showers, butterflies, peach melbas, beef bourguignon, paella and bird’s nests. He drank wine and tequila, chewed coca, smoked cigarettes. He had a hard time; he had a good time.
He invented a bunch of useless things that for a long time he believed to be indispensable: social classes, generals, advertising, the atomic bomb, nuclear energy and little Jesus in his crib, guns, napalm and electric can openers; he ranked in the ranks of the superfluous the things that were eminently indispensable, like confetti, cartoons, jokes and tricks, stupid puns, handshakes, self-love and likewise of others, the mole under Julie’s round breast and how Jules tried to kiss Julie’s mole, the lovely wrinkles that you find on both the face of a newborn and of an old man, the wind, snow, rain, sea, earth, mountain, weeds, orchids and nettles, wild strawberries, mushrooms, the sun, the storm, dead calm—among others.
He invented rockets to go to the moon.
Time passed less and less quickly.
There were still monkeys—although far fewer in number.
Well, there was another split. And this one, too, was not sudden. It was a thin crack that took a long time to appear. On the scale of a human lifetime, it would go unnoticed. But since time was passing less quickly, since intelligent man was so intelligent… He was certainly bound to make it bigger, to rupture it, in one way or another. That’s how the New Man came. Few at first and regarded as monsters. They were monsters, seeing that they were different. Soon to be the majority. Time passes so quickly! Three or four centuries, some say. Three million hypotheses explain the mutation.
They were the New Humans, the New Species, the Superiors, the Others, etc. They took possession of planet Earth, forgetting the old rules of the game in order to lay down new ones of their own.
There remained the monkeys and the “normal” men of the old species. They understood NOTHING about the New. It was their turn now to be different. They knew that sooner or later they would be condemned to total extinction, but they lived on anyway, they survived in the chaos, following the same old rules as always or trying as best they could to adapt… They survived on the lands that the Superiors left them. As they liked and according to their customs. The Superiors, as a general rule, left them alone, just as generally and with only a few exceptions intelligent men had left the monkeys alone. It was the time of transition between two species, one standing still and the other on the move, both coming from the same hairy, four-legged ancestor. Coming from each other.
Those of the old species—standing still—were very quickly in the minority. They were called, among themselves, “clay-eaters” because they persisted in drawing from the riches of the land most of their energy—of their energies. They sometimes claimed that the Superiors or the New Men or the Others were reveling in the spirit of the times. Maybe they looked at the Ancients like cartoons; maybe they were thinking about throwing peanuts at them or making them pets. And not only did the Superiors give birth to Superiors, but the incomprehensible mutation continued and the clay-eaters gave birth to children who would become Superiors. Children who were theirs and who got away from them. Who became while they remained. Who cast a strange, final glance at them—before forgetting them.
For the clay-eaters, for everyone of the old species, it was the time of MEN WITH NO FUTURE. Living fossils. Last known specimens of the old homo sapiens.
Looking closely, there were still some monkeys. Banana-eaters. And without a past. Perhaps they sometimes saw the old kings passing by—the old kings of creation become kings in exile. But they were not happy or sad about their decline. They ignored it. Like they were ignored. Men and monkeys were going to find themselves on the same sidelines. And the closer the event got, they less they saw it. Little by little they were blending into a great transparency.
Maybe there was, looking a little more closely, a little difference between men and monkeys. Being a gorilla or chimpanzee or gibbon was not a problem. Each of these species had been around for millions of years, forever like unto itself. Their specific characteristics were transmitted immutably, or nearly so. The gene pool was immortal, even if the individual was not. Men had certainly not finished encroaching on the equatorial forest; the number of orangutans and baboons had declined dramatically; but there were still a few left, be it only in the zoos. Huddled in the backs of their cages, they would figure out a way to pass on their hereditary message, which was the message thrown in the face of the world since time immemorial by the orangutans and baboons. A little message with four hands and covered with hair.
The case of homo sapiens was not so simple. He, too, had been pushed back to the borders of his former territory. Perhaps he would end up in a zoo, willingly or not, wittingly or not. But would he still have a message to pass on? Man’s tragedy is that he changes all the time. The simian species went back into the forest; the human species are allocated to time. Fifty thousand years earlier, homo sapiens eliminated Neanderthal man. Eliminated so completely that not of trace of him remains. Not much is known about how the last survivors were finished off. The conquerors had other fish to fry; their memories kept no record of the substitution. And here a new mutation was in progress and homo sapiens was destined for elimination. Nature had prepared a final solution for him. It was not going to kill him—it was the species in him that was going to die. He would give birth to fewer and fewer “normal” children. He had always been fond of change; he thought it good that the sons better than their fathers. This time, he had a real change. But he no longer had the floor.
Time passed so slowly that it seemed to come to a total standstill. Over there, the Superiors were no doubt keeping busy. They lived faster than one could ever imagine. For them, every second counted. But the clay-eaters in their rest homes vaguely knew that time did not matter any longer. They had no more need of projects. They were free to come and go. They were empty. Absolutely, completely, perfectly empty.
The story that follows is only one fragment picked at random from the clear, glassy, almost motionless stream of HISTORY. A lazy stream leading to an inland sea, whose level is getting lower every year. There is no longer enough water to compensate for the evaporation and the sea is vanishing, leaving behind a thin layer of salt. Soon it will be reduced to nothing; there will be nothing left but a white valley, so blinding in the sun that you will not be able to see the bones.
Elsewhere, mighty rivers relentlessly flow on, dragging mud and nuggets along unstoppably, that will get lost in the depths of the peaceful ocean.