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Dreams of Millennium: Report From a Culture on the Brink

Chris Blank

although published in 1996, Dreams of Millennium is always relevant with its quirky history, philosophy of the future and of the self, and the willingness to explore everything from God, to the X-Files, body piercing, and the Michigan Militia (not all at once).

dreams of millennium Kingwell looks at the phenomenon of how apocalypse affects humanity at various points in time. For instance:

Apocalyptic texts often function as manifestos for the downtrodden, the tyrannized, the put-upon. They tap into social unrest in the most powerful way imaginable, by telling a tale of salvation. There is always the announcement of a coming savior, some kind of super-being who will free the chosen people from their torment, conquer the evil of the world, and establish a harmonious new regime: the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, God's Paradise regained. (30)

As well, Dreams of Millennium shows us how frequent this is an occurrence, and why there is such a basis to our own millenial anxiety.

The Second Coming has been variously predicted for, among other years, 666, 1033, 1260, 1284, 1492, 1496, 1524, 1588, 1656, 1666, 1789, and 1844. In fact, the real growth of millenial fever had more to do with rapid social and technological change, swift population growth, and industrialization, than with data-crunching mathematics. (35)

In the chapter "The Prophet Zone," Kingwell examines various prophets through time. Historically fascinating, this introduces us to such characters as A group of Anabaptists led by Jan Bockelson of Leyden in 1534. He declared himself king, wanted all book but the bible destroyed, had fourteen young wives, demanded communal goods, amongst other things. Eventually they were blockaded inside and had to eat human corpses. Bockelson came to an unsightly, but politically expedient end. It is characters like this that make the history of millenial anxiety so interesting.

The book then continues on to examine power and class relations, looking at havers and have-notters, leading up to contemporary internet usage and accessibility. By grappling controversial, and flawed, texts such as the Bell Curve, Kingwell tries to find more rational explanations for what our society is doing to itself (suppressing the masses with marketing or poverty).

This leads nicely into a discussion on technology and the body. Talking with such theorists as John Perry Barlow and Arthur Kroker, Kingwell shows us where we are predicted to go (wired, flesh with technology); in reality, however, we are still more interested in books, most of the world doesn't have access to a computer, and the question is whether or not technology is really brining us closer together.

Using the Unabomber as an example, Kingwell states, "these days, not even killing people is enough to get others to pay attention to you, or your ideas, for more than a brief moment" (136). Technology, TV, and society are all fickle and anxious creatures.

Always making smooth transitions, Kingwell then moves from the body virtual to the body flesh. There is talk of piercing and "body art," of sexual relations and human fears of the other. No matter what he is writing on, Kingwell maintains a steady and firm grasp of logic and reality. Discussion is frank, and clear-headed, the text often seeming to plead to the reader: "Why doesn't society understand and utilize all this already! It's so fucking obvious!"

Talk of flesh dissolves into talk of extraterrestrial visitors and anal probes. And what talk of the truth, human conspiracy would be complete without thorough referencing to the X-Files, Thomas Pynchon, Michel Foucault, George Orwell, Timothy McVeigh, and, oh, the list goes on. Highly entertaining, thought stealing, and humour infused. This is the height of anxiety.

Moving on to look at the messiah affliction called the "Jerusalem Syndrome" (people going to Jerusalem, falling down proclaiming themselves to be God/Jesus/Mary/etc.- all very weird and apparently fairly common). The text charts a course to peek under the hood to figure out why we do what we do, desire what we desire, and think all the wacky things that give society grief, belly-laughs, and entertainment.

No millenial anxiety analysis would be complete, though, without turning within. Kingwell does this with analytical charm, discussing his religious schooling openly and the questioning of his faith.

The true threat of millenial anxiety, the true apocalypse, is not the fire and brimstone promised in Revelation, the wailing and gnashing teeth of Judgment Day. It is instead the destruction of hope, of faith in ourselves. The armageddon we face is the elimination of the idea that there is anything we can do to make this world one in which we feel at home. (344)

Besides the timeliness of some statistics, Dreams of Millennium will be a book worth reading even after the year 2000 passes us by with its false prophets and threats of apocalypse. Mark Kingwell examines more than millenial anxiety; he looks at the root of the cause, the dreams which motivate us, and the reality which awaits today.

published by viking books
ISBN 0-670-86749-7

Chris Blank is a Vancouver based writer.

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