The Devil Never Sleeps: and Other Essaysby Andrei Codrescu
The Devil is alive and well and living in America, Andrei Codrescu tells us, and with good reason. Nowhere else in the world--not even in Codrescu's native Transylvania--is he taken quite as seriously. When Codrescu gently derided the fundamentalist Christian belief in Rapture ("a pre-apocalyptic event during which all true believers would be suctioned off to… See more details below
The Devil is alive and well and living in America, Andrei Codrescu tells us, and with good reason. Nowhere else in the world--not even in Codrescu's native Transylvania--is he taken quite as seriously. When Codrescu gently derided the fundamentalist Christian belief in Rapture ("a pre-apocalyptic event during which all true believers would be suctioned off to heaven in a single woosh") in one of his commentaries on National Public, NPR received forty thousand letters in a protest spearheaded by Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition. Codrescu was warned to "stay away from eschatology."
Thankfully for us, he hasn't. In The Devil Never Sleeps, one of America's shrewdest social critics sets out to uncover the Devil's most modern and insidiously banal incarnations. Once easily recognizable by his horns, tail, and propensity for plague, today's Devil has become embedded in every fiber of our culture. Discussing everything from rock 'n' roll to William Burroughs to New Orleans bars to the Demon of Prosperity, Codrescu mockingly unmasks Old Nick as the opportunistic technocrat he really is. Embracing cell phones, cable access, and cyberspace, the ubiquitous Devil of secular culture embodies the true evil facing us today--banality.
In a world teeming with distractions, we are still more than capable of being bored to death. Tormented as much by insomnia and its ravages as the Devil (perhaps they are one and the same), we've become as twenty-four-hour society, swinging desperately between tedium and terror and sleeping fitfully, if at all. As Codrescu points out, the Devil never sleeps because we just won't let him.
With his characteristic charm and playful exuberance, Andrei Codrescu has successfully teased the Devil out from the darkest recesses and comic excesses of the human experience. The Devil Never Sleeps is his most wonderfully perverse book yet.
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The Devil Never Sleeps
Part OneI Have Been Warned to Stay Away from Eschatology: I Can’t Do It1
The Devil Never SleepsThe Devil never sleeps because he’s got too much to do and the things he’s already done keep him awake. So the Devil is no different from your average American with too much to do and too much to think about. If there is a difference between the Devil and the average Joe, it is only that the Devil feels no guilt. On the contrary, what keeps him awake at night is the pleasure of remembering, living his deeds all over again. The Devil uses insomnia to live twice, while the average Joe just breaks into a cold sweat.People once believed seriously in the Devil, so when bad things happened they knew who was responsible for them. Many bad things happened back then, so many that a whole class of church people existed whose only job was to keep track of all the bad things and their degree of badness. Not all things were equally bad. Some bad things that happened to one personally, such as disease and death, were the work of God because they were part of the pattern of common life. Bigger bad things, such as famines, plague, or earthquakes, could have been God’s or the Devil’s, depending on how wicked or God-fearing people were. If people were God-fearing and bad things happened to them, then it was Devil’s work. And twice vice versa. If the bad things that happened to the community were the Devil’s work, then the Devil’s agents who had caused these things (the Devil used human “minions” to do his dirty work) had to be found and burned alive. Burning alive the Devil’s agents was God’s work and it made people happy. The Devil rather enjoyed seeing his minions burn, so nobody was the worse for it, except the people burning. It was a win-win situation for the living.The Devil started losing friends and influence in the eighteenth century, when people discovered that many bad things had no single author. French philosophers, in particular, took some spirited whacks at both God and the Devil, though most of them—Voltaire, for instance—found the Devil a much more personable figure than his counterpart. The Devil shed much of his dreadfulness for the upper classes, mutating into a sympathetic, carnivalesque character, whose job was to suggest titillating possibilities. Sex and food, or lust and gluttony, lost their sinful terror and became delightful pursuits. Casanova’s memoir, The Story of My Life, chronicles, with methodical thoroughness and utter lack of regret, his lifelong indulgences. Casanova wrote his memoir in old age, thus reliving his devilish life during long insomniac nights. The Devil’s best champion was the Marquis de Sade, who methodically reversed the teachings of the Church to produce pornographic parables curiously devoid of prurience. In De Sade’s methodical work of virtue-demolition, the Devil is revealed as a logician and a grammarian. De Sade’s works, written mostly in prison, capture the antagonists in balance.After the eighteenth century, the Devil got more and more ragged around the edges, like a plush toy kicked around too long by rough children. By the end of the nineteenth century he barely had a place to live: most of the world had been discovered, even the scariest forests, and men’s souls were being taken apart by psychology. From carnival to operetta to a banal figure of speech, the Devil seemed to be nearly extinct. And then, surprise! Hitler! The sleeping bourgeoisie, safely ensconced in its ideas of reason and progress, gave birth to the Devil. Hitler embodied every repressed aspect of the Devil since the early Middle Ages. All that had been laughed away came back concentrated inside a little man with a tiny mustache who magnetized all the unfocused evil in the world and made the business of hell both serious and modern. Hitler was the classic Devil of the early Church, ignorant, bloody, banal, bureaucratic. He was part gargoyle, part Luther.In the Christian world, until the Reformation, the Devil was as serious as the political climate. The Church portrayed him as adaptable. He was insidious and ready to take on as much credibility as was required by the Pope. This combination of adaptability and insatiability pointed to two crucial models for the Devil: women and Jews. In his development, the Devil took on women because they were accessible through lust (“weaker vessels”) and Jews, because they could spread far and wide the Devil’s dispatches. In the Middle Ages, the Devil looked physically like a Jew, a pictorial and psychological resemblance that was invented by Lutherans and carried forward all the way into Hitler’s gas ovens. This fate might have befallen women as well if they hadn’t been needed to propagate the race. As it was, only a number of women (“witches” and “temptresses”) were chosen to pay for their connection with the Devil, standing in symbolically for all womankind. The Christian Devil never ceased acting in the subconscious of Western people, even though he was greatly neutralized after the end of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, when people were actually reasonable for a few minutes, he began receding again.When the Inquisition, which was the preeminent detector of witches and falsely converted Jews, lost its efficacy in Europe, it attempted to set roots in the New World. It failed resolutely. The Spanish Crown sent an inquisitor to New Orleans, but the locals shipped him back on the same conveyance he arrived in. He returned years later, not an inquisitor any longer, and distinguished himself by good works among Native Americans. Still, the Devil did get a berth on the Mayflower and came here with the Puritans. After the bloodletting at Salem, the Puritan ethos went underground, whence it emerges at regular intervals in American political and cultural life. Two recent examples: Kenneth Starr’s sexual witch hunt, and the prohibition against smoking in public places. The Devil is distinguished by his seductiveness and by the smoke that issues perpetually from his nostrils. Crusaders for so-called morality always take a stand against the Devil, though they often end up working in his interests.In the closing days of the second Christian millennium, many people in the great democracy of America have started believing in the Devil again. Born-again Christians in this technologically advanced country have begun an unholy obsession with old Satan while, ironically, in less advanced parts of the world, superstitious Islamic fundamentalists believe that America is herself the Devil. No question about it, the Devil is back. He hatches and blooms in the bafflement wrought in the faithful by excessive technology.For all that, the American Devil, a latecomer to these shores, evinces neither the highs nor the lows of the Satanic majesty honed over time in the cauldrons and on the gibbets of Europe. In this country, he neither raged insanely nor decayed properly, which is why he is still taken seriously. The aspect of the Enlightenment that struggled to diminish him had already won in Europe, leaving America free to take only the Enlightenment’s most high-minded and reasonable principles to heart.The Rolling Stones met with disaster in the U.S. in 1969, at Altamont, when they performed “Sympathy for the Devil.” This had never happened in England. Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger’s girlfriend at the time, explained that for the English the devil is a literary and comic figure, but that Americans take the devil seriously, which explains why the concert at Altamont appeared to many people to be the end of the peace-loving sixties, letting loose a decade of evil.2I am both European and American, so the Devil is for me both comic and serious. While the Devil remains, for Christian fundamentalists, a unique generator of evil, he has by no means stayed still. He has evolved, technologically if not psychologically, to keep up with the times. The same cannot be said, alas, about God, who is behind the times. God’s repertoire has been limited basically to the Ten Commandments and to permission (I hope!) for the use of his Son by televangelicals in pitches for money, and by politicals in pitches for power. God’s granting of licenses on his Son is seemingly limitless, which somewhat dilutes the message.The Devil has moved way ahead in both direct appearances and the streamlining of his vast operation. The Internet has been the Devil’s greatest invention since television. There was a time, in the heyday of the Church in the fourteenth century, when God and the Devil were poised in a balance of powers resembling the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) policy of the Cold War. In those days, just like God, whose universe he mirrored, the Devil had scores of angels to produce the multitude of evils in the world. Like any bureaucracy, the Devil’s production office had branches in charge of major activities, and these offices were efficient or inefficient depending on the angels who ran them. Evil angels, just like the good angels, had personalities: They were modest or profligate, expansive or uptight, cold or hot, sweet or sour, bitter or tart, sported a full suit of feathers, were nearly bald, etc, etc. In other words, they were as close to humans as they could be. Everything was closer in those days: the sky, the stars, God, heaven, and hell. All you had to do back then was to stretch out your hand to brush it against something winged, furry, and uncanny.Things are not so cozy for God anymore, but we are really tight with the Devil. Thanks to the movies, television, and the Internet, we can now view devils who look more familiar to us than the strange people sharing our couch. Thanks to the film director John Waters, we now know that the Devil can be a “serial mom,” which is to say an ordinary, family-loving human being who lets out a bit of murderous steam when her chores are done. John Waters has illustrated remarkably the quality of evil in our time. As Hannah Arendt said, speaking of Nazis, evil is banal. “The banality of evil” is why many of us have no idea that it exists. The machinelike efficiency of Nazi Germany was just a modern bureaucracy.There is a difference between the grim Devil of fundamentalist Christians and the ubiquitous Devil of our secular culture, as seen on television and movies. Of course, fundamentalists aren’t fooled for a second: they can see his glowing paws in the dark, whether he wears gloves or silk stockings. The modern Devil operates both nakedly and in disguise. Nakedly, he speaks through secular humanists, one-world orderers (agents of ZOG—Zionist Occupation Government), Democrats, urban dwellers, clubbers of Rome, freemasons, Catholics, the Queen of England, rock ‘n’ roll, labcoated scientists (both above and under the earth’s crust), number crunchers, education boards, fetus killers, sexual deviants, media mavens, idolaters, image makers, evolutionists, and ironists. In disguise, he tries not to look or sound like any of the above to the extent that he sometimes sounds like a man of God. The Devil, as seen on television, at the movies, and on the Internet, is a multi-tentacled organism continually propagating its evil essences unto an innocent and corruptible body politic. Good Christians are not fooled by the multitude of the secular Devil’s guises, whether he pops up in the news or masquerades as entertainment. But the poor secular Devil barely know that he’s the Devil. He’s just … secular. He depends on the Christian Coalition and its kin to recognize and identify him. His self-image depends on it.A good student of the Devil knows that his job is to perpetuate this wicked world, which is why fornication is his favorite vice, and libido his medium. God, on the other hand, works to destroy the world in order to cleanse and purify it. This battle will be decided at Armageddon, at the coming of the millennium. On the subject of the millennium, there is disagreement, both about the date and about the sequence, but there is no mistaking the principal actors. The paranoids and the optimists, both secular and religious, are united in the belief of their righteousness. What follows is a classification of the righteous.GENERAL DESCRIPTION:The PARANOIDS are of three kinds: religious, secular, and technological. The religious paranoids are of three kinds, too: fundamentalist, New Ager, and paramilitary. The secular paranoids also have three branches: X-Filers, tabloidoids, and weekend satanists. The techno paranoids are divided also, like Gaul, into three parts: Y2K-ers, genetophobes, and ecodystopians.The OPTIMISTS are likewise classifiable according to strict Linnaean principles and occasionally overlap the paranoids. The three kinds are: liberals, secularists, and utopians. Liberals are of three kinds: free-marketeers, one-worlders, and armchair philosophers. Secularists, who are sometimes liberals, have three branches: laissez-fairians, post-Enlightenmentarians, and statophile utopians. Utopians, who overlap the religious paranoids, divide as well into fundamentalists, New Agers, and post-history buffetarians.Here is how their beliefs operate:
KINGDOM: PARANOIDSGENUS: RELIGIOUSSPECIES: FUNDAMENTALIST, NEW AGER, PARAMILITARY
Fundamentalists (God’s party) are sure their scriptures are about to bear apocalyptic fruit and can’t wait to see the rest of us burn in hell while they meet their Maker amid harp music and nard sprays.New Agers (the Devil’s party), informed by Nostradamus, astrology, oracles, private signs, misreadings of runes and glyphs, Kali Yuga, and various psychotics, can see the day of reckoning as surely as they can read their tea leaves.Paramilitary (the God-Devil Party) paranoids are impatient fascists with a death wish who want to take the rest of us with them in a willed Armageddon.
KINGDOM: PARANOIDSGENUS: SECULARSPECIES: X-FILERS, TABLOIDOIDS, WEEKEND SATANISTS
X-Filers are sure that the government is keeping secret the presence of aliens (devils) among us, and that the alliance of government (which may have already been taken over by aliens!) and an interplanetary invasion force, means that the human race is at an end.Tabloidoids are broader-based X-Filers who add the Kennedy assassinations, the CIA, and any number of earth- or space-based conspiracies to bear on their feelings of total paranoid helplessness.Weekend Satanists are working-class and lower-middle-class pale white people who can be Goths, vampires, space creatures, or a sci-fi combination of all of them, who have invested their minds and bodies into an aesthetic that impatiently awaits the Next Life.
KINGDOM: PARANOIDSGENUS: TECHNOLOGICALSPECIES: Y2K-ERS, GENETOPHOBES, ECODYSTOPIANS
Y2K-ers are the descendants of the 1950s A-bomb shelterians (who are themselves the descendants of hoarding Puritans). They are stockpiling Campbell’s soups, weapons, and very bad novels, in expectation of a prolonged apocalypse brought about by the failure of their computers to download porn and process their bank statements.Genetophobes are spawns of Molly the Cloned Sheep and readers of newspapers who see genetic engineering making the one or two fatal leaps into obliterating humanity.Ecodystopians see the planet reaching its expiration date thanks to environmental alteration, pollution, overpopulation, and engineered viruses.
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: LIBERALSSPECIES: FREE-MARKETEERS
Free-market liberals believe in the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith but have a gnawing suspicion that the Hand might be giving the finger to a lot of people, so they pay lip service to environmental causes (leaving the children “a livable planet”) while wallowing quite indiscriminately in the everrising Market (the Devil).
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: LIBERALSSPECIES: ONE-WORLDERS
One-worlders believe in the Global Economy and Technology, the new Esperanto. They argue that trade barriers must come down before physical borders do. Their future world has the United States (the new Jerusalem or Rome) shining on the hill, while all good things flow from it to the provinces.
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: LIBERALSSPECIES: ARMCHAIR PHILOSOPHERS
Armchair philosophers are an ever-increasing tribe of liberal utopians who absorb and regurgitate every optimistic signal coming from the above groups, and spread them through their circles with support from PBS and the Internet. Their portfolios aren’t shabby, but they aren’t big enough to cause them to be active. The APs are the descendants of Chekhov’s turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Russian provincials. They live in small towns (where the Devil does the most damage).
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: SECULARISTSSPECIES: LAISSEZ-FAIRIANS
Laissez-fairians are active proponents of doing nothing and forgetting everything, especially religious quarrels. In real life, they tend to be casual Unitarians (Devil worshippers).
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: SECULARISTSSPECIES: POST-ENLIGHTENMENTARIANS
Post-Enlightenmentarians are hedonists. They enjoy surfing, group marriage, anti-aging vitamins, cryogenics, and Internet porn. They originated in California, but they can be found as far north as Maine. Their goal is physical immortality. (The Devil loves them the best.)
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: SECULARISTSSPECIES: STATOPHILE UTOPIANS
Statophile Utopians cite statistics proving that things are getting better, even if for them, personally, things might be getting worse. SUs are quaint and their numbers dwindle and increase, depending on the newspaper they read (Bourgeois devilitarians).
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: UTOPIANSSPECIES: FUNDAMENTALISTS
Like their paranoid kin, the optimistic fundamentalists see the end of the world as an opportunity for the coming of the Kingdom. Unlike their kin, they dwell less on the Horrors of the End and more on the Benefits of the New. Some of them even believe that Christ has already come and that we already live in Paradise, only we don’t know it (Insufficiently attuned to the Devil).
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: UTOPIANSSPECIES: NEW AGERSLike their paranoid kin, the optimistic New Agers point to signs, portents, coffee grounds, aliens, and genetics to prove that physical and spiritual immortality are established facts. One meets many such believers in New Age summer camps on the East and West coasts. (They are the Devil’s children: his kindergartens are overflowing.)
KINGDOM: OPTIMISTSGENUS: UTOPIANSSPECIES: POST-HISTORY BUFFETARIANSBuffetarians partake of a buffet of all the above, in the manner of a smorgasbord or a cruise through ethnic cuisines. Their temperaments are essentially sunny, so they’ll pick anything that makes them feel better, without particular bias for any of them. (The Devil is in the spices.)
Let us now have a look at the original description of the End of the Christian World, involving the Final Battle between God and the Devil, which is the spring of both our paranoia and optimism (after the paranoia has subsided).THE DEVIL NEVER SLEEPS AND OTHER ESSAYS. Copyright © 2000 by Andrei Codrescu. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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