THE WRECK OF THE TITAN

A hundred and ten years after the fact, it’s clear that all industry of Mankind in the twentieth and twenty-first century had been mobilized as a kind of revenge against the iceberg that sank the Titanic. The sinking was Nature’s violation against Man’s ambition (at best; hubris at worst)–the unsinkable vessel proved sinkable enough, as ice ripped open the steel hull, like Jack the Ripper’s blade against a whore’s throat, and loosed gallons of the North Atlantic into its bowels. This transgression required avenging, and what better vengeance could there be than the industrialized calamity known as climate change. Jakobshavn Glacier, which wrought the Titanic-killing iceberg, was once the fastest-thinning glacier for two decades. More recent reports, however, have indicated that the melting of Jakobshavn Glacier has halted and even reversed over the past three years. To borrow from the title of a novel that’s said to have predicted the Titanic sinking: Mankind’s wrath against Nature is nothing if not futility.

I have recurring nightmares where I drown on a sinking ocean liner, specifically the Titanic; and more specifically, I’m drowned by the Titanic. As the ship slips beneath me, like it did for Jack and Rose in James Cameron’s ultraviolent masterpiece, the suction pulls me down with it. I suck in frigid seawater, and I watch the stern of the once-proud vessel disappear into the blue-green-black depths of the ocean.

To the survivors in the lifeboats or floating and half-drowned in the water, the stars in the sky that night must have shone with a terrifying beauty. As the supposedly unsinkable ship sank into the sea, a chorus of celestial bodies leered from above, and after the Titanic broke apart and, at last, the stern joined its other half, that star-speckled sky rang with a silent infinitude. In this moment, those who remained were forced to confront a cosmic dread beyond the imaginations of Lovecraft and company. There’s the sea, the sky, the stars–and nothing. God, how the stars did shine.

I was six years old when James Cameron’s Titanic premiered in theaters. In terms of ambition and anguish, his Titanic film was a new Titanic. But instead of sinking, it soared, became a global phenomenon. This was self-evident when I, after watching it with my parents, saw it again with my grandparents who’d just arrived from Palm Desert, on the same day. Seeing, enduring, participating in the Titanic phenomenon twice in one day did something, and it became a childhood obsession, ranging from the Titanic: Adventure Out of Time point-and-click game to a day in fourth grade when I initiated an ersatz pen-and-paper RPG featuring my classmates (we all lived) and our teacher, to whom I assigned the fate of the man who falls from the stern and smashes against one of Titanic‘s enormous propellers before splashing into the ocean.

If Jack the Ripper was the midwife to the modern world, as Alan Moore posits in From Hell, then the Titanic cataclysm is its evil stepmother. It was an apocalyptic event in every sense: it revealed and startled and clarified and agonized; a symbolic rending of the Old Order, a portent of a new one. Après moi, le déluge, the event seemed to declare–and the deluge of varied monstrosities and carnage of the subsequent century and a decade confirms it. It demonstrated that no human feat of engineering can withstand the sheer force of Nature, and of History. There have been maritime disasters before and since, but none possess the historic tragedy of the Titanic sinking. 110 years later, we remain trapped in the steerage of this wrecked titan, and it is drowning to death.

J Everett is the editor-in-chief and publisher of APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL.