In optimistic visions of the future, there is a liberal and democratic world government, or perhaps an interplanetary federation. In dystopias, there is a single global tyranny. In post-apocalyptic novels and movies set in the aftermath of a nuclear war, nuclear bombs seem to off gone off everywhere in the world, even in places remote from the homelands and allies of the major combatants.
The assumption of uniform conditions in the world of tomorrow saves science-fiction authors and screenwriters the trouble of explaining the Sino-Indian dispute of 2345 AD, allowing them to concentrate on the plot and the main characters. But it is completely unrealistic.
In 1794, by decree of the National Convention under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre, all villages in France were obliged to celebrate the first (and what would prove to be the last) Festival of the Supreme Being. In the village of Meudon, just south of Paris, a parade escorted a woman dressed as the goddess Reason to her temple, which was known as the Church of Saint-Martin before the revolutionaries repurposed the churches. Those celebrating in Meudon had little idea that they were the talk of the concurrent grand festival in Paris.
On the Champs de Mars, near where the Eiffel Tower would one day stand, Robespierre and his artist friend Jacques-Louis David had devised quite a spectacle for the Festival of the Supreme Being, with a man-made mountain at its center and atop it a giant tree of liberty. Members of the National Convention weaved through the crowd carrying bouquets of flowers, fruits, and ears of corn, wearing “national blue” coats (no longer were they royal blue) and suede culottes. Some in the crowd whispered that their culottes were made from the skins of recently executed Christians and other enemies of the Republic, at a special tannery for producing human leather in Meudon.
“Snack tray” quickly became a cheerful, wordless conversation about who we wanted to be in the world and how we wanted that world to be. Where food was not a fetish object, where your car and driver — not your handcrafted artisanal gin — was still your status symbol. Neon-orange Delicious over sweet-potato Righteous.
There should be a literary term for a book you can’t stop reading that also makes you stop to think. I slammed down “The Red Car,” Marcy Dermansky’s sharp and fiery new novel, in tense fits and jumpy starts, putting down the book to ponder it, but not pondering long because I had to know what happened next. The novel’s furious action keeps the pages snapping by, but each incident, at times each sentence, is bubbling with equally furious ideas. “A novel of ideas” is not the term for this — that’s a term for a book that often has big chunks of boring, which “The Red Car” does not — but neither does it inhabit the term “entertainment,” which assumes a certain shallowness also nowhere to be found.