R.D. Emereau is the father of Descendentalism. After reading the Baron of Fiano—”One of the formative events of my life,” as he later wrote—he quit his job and fell into “the idle idyll of leeching off friends and family,” never taking up another occupation for the remainder of his relatively short life. His first essay, “Artifice,” was an international sensation and brought him many death threats. Shortly before he died, he moved out of his parents’ house and ventured to the ruins of America’s automotive metropolis to conduct his great experiment in living among “the Renatured.” Below are some selections from his journal which form the draft of his unfinished masterpiece, A Year on the Detroit River.
March 1st. To wander into a ruined city after a nuclear detonation, build a house of bones on ground zero, and begin the Great Experiment in living amidst a fallen civilization—why shouldn’t the musings of this new citizen be as sanguine and charming as the naturalist living on a remote pond in Massachusetts? Describing, in prose as lush as a backwoods idealist, ebony bugs hatching from melted infrastructure, ashes blowing along the bed of a vaporized river, the current soft and unrippled—one might wade in these opaque waters without the anxiety of seeing a face reflected back, unmindful of man’s all-too translucent nature. Who knows what may rise from such conspicuous failure? Surely this will not be the last winter. Another night will fall. The earth is but a young moon.
March 5th. I wanted to preempt social oblivion, to achieve a total solitude. In the places of uncorrupted nature one is always in danger of being sullied by colonizers and wayward tourists. If one travels not to a place never inhabited, however, but to a place once inhabited, this danger falls away. What has been renatured never quite returns to nature; the rust of artifice will always linger there as a warning to exploring entrepreneurs. That the remains of a forgotten civilization exist no longer as a picturesque organization of stones, but as the contaminated waste of urban decay—hazardous burblings, Homo vulcanorum hotspots, ruins of usefulness—is enough to keep others away, providing a lifetime of photogenic memories and radiation ecstasies.
March 13th. Our spiritual ambitions have been deserted on a tropical island; let us then throw them out to sea. Though the ecosystem provides fish, coconuts, sun, a nice breeze, and other shipwrecked survivors to war against, these things grow tedious after a while; the castaway longs to return home. A soul in a bottle allows one to send word to heaven: “Lost. Drop ladder.” A mercy that the body left behind perishes long before the bottle reaches the waterfall at the end of the map.
March 18th. Be satisfied with the qualities you have, since no one else will—as long as you’re above satisfactory. It is when others express contentment with who you are that you should reevaluate.
April 9th. Before you chide me for being a dreamer, allow me to advocate for the practicality of living in an abandoned city. One needs no money. One does not need to build, get a trade, or have skills of any kind. One needs only to know how to take. As long as snack machines are stocked, department stores full, no limits need be placed on material greed. Spiritual greed, too, may be developed to the full. One has all the time in the world to read Wordsworth and become one with a blighted city in a universe falling in upon itself. And at what cost? —One has only to abandon shame, love…life.
April 24th. Human beings are only as obsolete as the technical skills they possess.
May 7th. Analytical thinkers are always railing against obscurity. It is “a charge which,” Coleridge says, “every poet, whose imagination is warm and rapid, must expect from his contemporaries.” But I say that obscurity, even where allegations are accurate, is not necessarily a defect. What about ourselves or the universe is clear and distinct? Very little, except for our desires for clarity and distinctness. —And so with ideas of ourselves and the universe; every clear and distinct idea suffers from tunnel vision. To impose a will to certainty is an act of bad faith. Obscurity is a poetic mimesis of the deep mysteries around and within us, a lyrical exploration of the unknown that does not seek to give the impression of diminishing that unknown, but enlarges it. —Though a poet must always undertake this mystification tastefully and with intent. After one is trained in logic, all surface mystery disperses; for the initiated there is very precise meaning. Poetic obscurity requires no training; the mystery is democratic: anyone can read their own intentions into it, and those who attempt to train themselves to gain a higher perspective will only repeal this apparent understanding, and so deepen their unknowing.
May 10th. Universalis fallax: there are times when I feel compelled to correspond my individual self with the universe. The two of us have, after all, much in common: both are cold and indifferent inflictors of suffering. Both seem infinite: there are days when I feel as unbounded as the cosmos; and yet I know in more sober moments that I, like the cosmos, have limits—am, indeed, even shrinking, if I am the measure of my compassion as well as my aging spine. History’s repetition indicates a psychological bias among mystics to identify themselves with the universe. But this inclination should be avoided at all costs. It is not only impossible, but dangerous and wrong. Nalanda university was burned for want of a few monks who would claim themselves as themselves in order to fight their invaders. In the arms of the absolute we find only serene repose—naptime and homicide. We must keep ourselves beholden to private evils. Look to your own will, your own intellect; do not give it up to something other. And when your will fails or you suffer bouts of absentmindedness, have the courage to admit this weakness, too, as your own. If you must identify yourself with something, find humility elsewhere—unite with the moth hole in your shirt.
May 25th. The oligopoly: a pantheon of deities created in our image, killing factory workers and small businessmen for sport. Corporations, like all individuals, are bound by the logic of survival. But there is no social contract to curb the ferocity of these divinities, no blood ties as in the Greek tradition to minimize internal warfare. Business laws are simply the holy offerings we present them to appease their wrath. Eating one another like hungry titans, they slowly merge into a monotheopoly. As long as the protestant work ethic remains strong the benevolent hand of providence will provide a good harvest.
May 27th. Something to be said for the Egyptian practice of burying wealth with the dead. Now if we would only do this with our masters of industry. The businessman’s money forms a whole with him; without it his soul will be accepted to its place of rest only on condition of work-eligibility, put to labor singing or sending messages. Together he and his stocks make up a single dead person. After he is gone his equity stakes too are “dead,” unusable. The mansion inherited by his children is haunted not by him, but the ghosts of his liquid assets.
June 14th. I took a morning stroll through Michigan Central Station. The presence of mold clings to the walls like spring moss; asbestos fibrils float through the air, as if God shed his hair during a snowstorm. Dampness coats my skin in a summer sweat. Graffiti colors the walls like autumn leaves. All the seasons, present in a single moment in an abandoned train depot. Nature herself does not heap such a variety of ecosystems across her surface.
July 4th. Co-Colonialism. The culture of a province transcends its peoples. Colonizers, transplanting alien traditions onto a new name-era, remain haunted by the native traditions they ostensibly replaced. The prayers of every Puritan over the dinner table are still tantalized by Chahnameed of the Pequot. In response to their meal blessings, Big Eater sends the family off to bed with stomach cramps, descends on the leftovers, smears the dog’s face with mashed potatoes, and retrieves an old arrowhead from the children’s toy room. America is a battleground of ancient cultures. Though most of the surviving indigenous population has been diluted through interbreeding, the institutions of the land now European, the spirit of the original race lingers—as long as relics remain it can never dissipate. Europeans, while temporarily dominant, have been unable to eradicate their competitors: with a growing historical consciousness inspired by old ruins, artifacts, and literary fragments, Pre-Columbian culture is resurging once more.
Contraservation: the ethos of a civilization only preserves itself through antagonism. Even when dormant it passes its forgotten objects down through the centuries, lying in wait to awaken some distant descendent or, adapting itself to the times, convert the exiles of younger cultures in order to fight the venerable ones for supremacy.
August 6th. Slavery is the universal lifestyle. We willingly throw away our natural freedom for the sake of clocks. Those who choose to retain their freedom, keeping time for themselves, will seem all the more enslaved, having no money to satisfy the whims that keep them shackled or the needs that keep them healthy. But this only seems so; it is not those who deny their desires who show themselves to be the most free, but who deny their nutrients along with their sucrose—they have cast off the chains of Nature herself.
August 9th. A comfortable life is never enough; those in relative affluence struggle to rise yet higher. Gulled into college with the promise of ease and success, alumni of gymnasiums and sororities discover they have to work harder than their parents for the same salary, even to think. In an inversion of Marx’s capitalism the richest now work the most and the working-class the least. Only the artist’s labor-value remains the same (still worth nothing). Simmel’s supra-momentariness belongs to those who do not trade years and tears for souvenirs. Self-sufficiency is perpetual borrowing: making polyester hand-me-downs more breathable with wind power, picking berries in public parks, rummaging for nuts in a neighbor’s pantry. Those escaping the economy flee the drudgery of linear time, free to be grinded down by a succession of moments.
I represent Non-Mercantile Man (Homo pauper), participating in the modern money economy only minimally. I remain myself, irreducible to a cluster of interchangeable functions. No one attempts to breach my boundaries except for my rent manager. The integrity I feel over my isolation is part of the tragedy in which my life unfolds. In order to be oneself a man can’t have a story worth telling. Only by dying can a person have any effect on their environment. The irony of the death of the salesman, the last act that Miller never wrote, was the afterlife of Willy Loman: to become an insurance policy.
August 23rd. Socrates’s idea that merely by living in a place you implicitly agree to follow its laws, and (in modern parlance) are bound by its social contract, is rendered obsolete by the legal nicety of passports. One cannot abandon one’s origins, or even explore alternatives to them, until proving with certainty that one belongs to them.
August 28th. Marriage is the institution of those desperate for misery.
September 15th. Today I carved my name at the base of a statue covered with patina. The original figure of commemoration being obscured, I decided to make myself the marble’s new subject. Will some distant traveler read my passions off it, like a modern Ozymandias, or mistake me for one of the gods reclining on high in Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals? I am, in a sense, the king of this city. The last inhabitant is, de facto, the last ruler as well. Yet I find myself difficult to control at times. A one-man riot fighting the vestiges of commercial civility, I rage against former shop-keepers and public servants, my feats legendary to any newspaperman within a thousand-mile radius; in my wanton looting I mimic the encroaching wilderness. The violence of wolves, moss, and burst pipelines cannot compare themselves to my neglected self-order. I myself am anarchy.
How to stave off the inevitable? Perhaps a sacrifice to a parts-pressing machine? Surely Coatlicue, mother of gods, will extend her creation just a bit longer if I offer up a few buildings. Arson serves a sanctifying function, as well as a warming one.
October 11th. A God of ordered disorder: evolution was designed so species could fight for preeminence. Only those who triumph win His favor: attaining consciousness, emerging from the jungle, imagining a host of tribal gods, and having those gods fight for preeminence until one emerges victorious…thus was a small subset of humanity on the coast of the Mediterranean finally able to demonstrate a love billions of years in the making. —This seems the only interpretation of monotheism logically compatible with modern biology and anthropology.
October 16th. The God gene, the God particle—the human predisposition to believe and the makeup of the universe finally discovered, all that is now needed is a complementary coping mechanism to spark the seraphic neuron: God gin. When the time is right the spirit-intoxicated prophet—a humble basement-brewer with an immaculately conceived bathtub—will arise to distribute the good message in his bottles and have us continually singing the Lord’s praises in the karaoke bar.
November 14th. I would be lost without Detroit high culture; it is my chief channel of aesthetic development and moral orientation. I sat in the rafters of the Fox Theatre this evening, imagining the performance of various tragedies on stage. Coriolanus crossing 8-mile road, prevented from sacking the Renaissance Centre at the last minute by a pleading automotive tycoon and a tearful patron of the arts. The Scottish usurper realizing the hollowness of his immortality through a clever twist in prophecy: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until high Tokyo Tower to the Cathedral of Finance shall come against him.” King Lear relinquishing power to his adopted black daughters. Richard II traveling to Washington to ask for aid in defeating a native uprising. Marc Antony speaking to a homeless crowd in front of the Masonic Temple. Romeo avenging a fallen Mercutio on the floors of the Detroit Athletic Club, then drinking contaminated public water with Juliet on the steps of the Wayne County Building. Fortinbras entering the Grand Army of the Republic Building to be crowned ruler.
I found myself convulsing tears, and could not bring myself to sit through this modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s oeuvre; though, this may have had something to do with the rotten air in my lungs. There is no doubt that my emotional attachment to this city is tubercular in its joys and sorrows.
November 20th. Fiano’s merit lies chiefly in his uncompromising aloofness. There is an admirable coarseness lying underneath his good breeding, a trait he shares with all reticent natures. His atheism, too, was an inevitable result of his radical unsociability: he refused to commiserate even with God. In his isolation he displayed the courage to break with both past and future, with history itself—a courage all too easily mistaken for hubris. He is the very prototype of Renatured Man.
December 21st. When the truths of darkness are in the radii, they converge upon all that is ephemeral yet absolute—because absolute.
December 21st. When the truths of darkness are in the radii, they converge upon all that is ephemeral yet absolute—because absolute.
December 22nd. The dynamism of unbecoming: from lessening to nonbeing, the innumerable miracles of the void help us to realize our spiritual impotence and ultimate formlessness. Do not trust the mudslide of your perceptions; only a divine blackout within ourselves can help one see the road too dark to navigate with the eyes.
January 12th. Coughed up a cup of blood today. Were I a vampire, this would be nourishment enough. But as it is I can find no packaged food left anywhere. I am thus forced to become that monster of humanity, bane to merchants everywhere: the Self-Reliant Man. Killed my first deer, but didn’t manage to cook it before it froze. The next I roasted over a house fire. The results were charred, but filling. As I return to our ancestors’ way of life I bask in Nature’s gifts for the first time; in proportion to what she is taking away, I must say that the balance is slightly in favor of the deer steak.
January 17th. Mrs. Cavendish, in Philosophical Fancies, says that, “In Nature there is no such thing, as Number, or Quantity; for Number, & Quantity have only reference to division.”
Indeed, the one doomed goal of the life and work of all romantics is: to excise number. A lover of the renatured, however, must take care not to fall into the trap of reifying unity when he encounters the dissolved separations of urban life.
Among the higher beasts and tribal peoples alike, Nature upholds her “rule of four,” in which any group of things higher than a tetrad is an indistinguishable gaggle. Below five though, we must count—for our world lies under the aspect of quaternity. One must always maintain oneself as a distinction—over and against the predator, the prey, and Nature herself.
February 14th. There are certain types of agreeable sensations only within reach of one in bad health. The healthy man has little to look forward to but labor, taxes, and death as the hospital dweller reclines in bed, watches television, eats prepared meals, is pumped with analgesics, and receives visits from the charming doctor. The healthy woman has no servants; she herself is a servant to the sick—the avaricious, the aggressive, the controlling, every Type A personality trait. Alone amidst disorders chronic and male, hers is the hypochondria of health: always worrying whether she will wake up tomorrow and be just fine. Morning sickness is her greatest power: with this she can rest and revenge herself on the cycle of paternal authority. What, then, is left for men to seek retribution against? —An even higher authority: disability pay offends the survivalist laws of Mother Nature.
February 26th. Coughing up blood in large doses now. I no longer hunt, as I have little appetite, much less strength. The night sweats are exacerbated by the sounds of wild animals. Soon I will be unable to defend myself from attack. I have decided to sit and let the wolves come for me. Whether they reach me before the fever, I can only hope—a new feeling for me. My resolution is stoic; I am ready to trust in the beneficent order of Nature, and in my individual form provide a pack of bellies with the means to survive. I will perish gladly, if it means Her law remains. My final act will be one of conformity.
February 27th. Those who don’t learn to tolerate differences in others become intolerable to themselves, and regarding their most thoroughly familiar aspects.