World on Fire by Michael Brownstein

Open City Books, 2002. Paperback, 181 pages, $14.

reviewed by Fred Cervin

This could be the Common Sense or Uncle Tom’s Cabin for today’s situation. Has a bit of the flavor of Tom Paine put through the fires of William Blake. What is remarkable is the way that Brownstein combines extensive reference to the best political activists and writers (Chomsky, Shiva, Mander) with an intense poetic/religious consciousness.

He is attempting to recapture the doctrine of The End from the fundamentalists, to recover the vision of apocalypse for poetry, and poetry for the future of the Earth. He asserts that we are now already living “in the Last Days.” Satan has been released “into the world to wreak havoc upon it.” He notes that eighty percent of Americans believe in a personal devil. This seems high to me, but the idea is certainly a part of the cultural unconscious. Satan equals standardization-one size fits all. The demonic crystallization of all this is the corporation, and what is going on is truly diabolical.

It appears that Brownstein is trying to use religion to bring about massive change in the world, as Ghandi did. Like Ghandi he takes what he can use from the total religious scene of our time, constructing a visionary religion that expresses his own passion, combining elements not usually found together. Brownstein places the notions of Satanic Evil and the End Times in a new context: The Earth as a Sacred Goddess. Scientific knowledge of how we are destroying our own habitat and the fabric of life is in no way incompatible with the understanding that we are utterly dependent upon the Mother Earth. Furthermore, She is greater than we are and will survive our demise should we bring it upon ourselves.

It seems that Brownstein has gone through a powerful change of consciousness such that he is able to live at every moment in the awareness that The End Is Here! The catastrophe of the Dominator Culture is already upon us. “It is a mistake to think this culture will last much longer.” It may be too late to save the Earth as a suitable habitat for humans. It may be too late to prevent the general dispersion of toxins throughout the biosphere; humans who do survive will be living in a poisoned world. But it is definitely not too late for us to turn back to the Earth with all our hearts. Not too late for us to come home to ourselves. Not too late for us to see the Devouring Usurper for what it is. Not too late to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The world is already in flames. It is easy to document this extensively and to witness it in personal experience. The problem is not really how to stop it. It is how to orient ourselves within this pandemonium of demonic energies. We are living through the twilight, the end of the old gods of human domination of the Earth. ‘These are of course the gods we grew up believing in: Reason. Progress. Knowledge. Efficiency. Growth. The conflagration is in our own heads. Our own egos are built up of stones of law, bricks of religion, mortar of (modern) custom. We are all participants in this world on fire.

If the Ravager, demonic spiritual creation of our own collective imagination, is going up in flames, how can this fire be wholly evil? Is it not a Holy Fire? It is true that evil men are stoking the firestorm of our times, but are they not unwittingly bringing about an entirely new religious situation in the world? Are they not forcing us to a choice we would rather not have to make, between them and the Earth? Between the phantoms of corporate promises (“consensus reality”) and the visionary knowledge of those who have seen the Goddess naked and so realized the nothingness of their own egos?

To witness the ongoing destruction of the only world we have known is to quake in anguish. Through the anguish, however, a “path with heart” opens up before us. “Love the earth,” said Charles Olson. And drinking the sacred cup that shatters the ego and deranges all the senses, Michael Brownstein says, “Heal me, Momma!” There is no other change in the cultural situation that could be more frightening to the Masters.

Weep for the Earth. Weep for the Terror that is coming upon us. But also rejoice because it turns out that consensus reality is arbitrary. It is a phantom. On the day that we cease to believe, it ceases to hold power over us. Therefore, anything is possible. We are immediately empowered to begin to create alternative futures. “So why not be upbeat?” asks Brownstein. The very structure of reality as we have known and believed it, is flaming away. Here is opportunity for New Creation if ever there was. So “throw away your ego!” Let’s boogy! Michael Brownstein, World on Fire. Read it and weep! Tears of anguish, tears of joy.

Fred Cervin (d. 2013) lived in New Haven, Connecticut.

See all articles by Fred Cervin