“Abandon all hope, you who enter here!”

Django sheds his light - a sort of slow cooked version of the dusk - on two recent phenomena: the first picture ever taken of a black hole, and the burning of Notre Dame.  The lack of supporting evidence is as overwhelming as his conviction there’s a Masterhand at work here. He won’t let Them fool him.

“ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE.” If you’ve never seen these words in all of your life, you’ve never been to hell. Good boy. Or girl. But hey - what hasn’t been is yet to come. So, as a matter of preparation, you might be curious to know about how things evolve down there. 
     Fortunately, we’ve got Dante. He’s been there and wrote a book about it: La Divina Commedia. Been there - well… passing through, that is, on his way to his beloved Beatrice, who was waiting for him in Heaven. And as the way to heaven, at least in those old days, happened to be leading through hell he didn’t have much of a choice. Yes: true love conquers all, but - he was in fine company: as you can see in the marvelous accompanying painting (1850) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (pic 1), Virgil, the Roman poet, was guiding him.

So, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate,” the inscription on hell’s entrance reads: “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.” That, anyway, is what Dante says. I don’t know what about you, dear reader, but, to be honest, i’d turn back if i bumped into such a traffic sign. One has to admit it isn’t overly inviting, and really: someone should tell the Devil to do something about his marketing. I’d start with roasting the head of the marketing division.

William Blake (1757-1827) has made an exquisite drawing of the two reading this inscription: Virgil taking Dante by the hand, encouraging him to step into the Underworld. Virgil already has his right foot upon the threshold. When you look at the drawing you can’t but constatate this guy enters hell like he enters the local pub. Clearly an old acquaintance.

But hell, this was 14th century – we don’t need Dante anymore! We quote Heino Falcke (Radbout University, Nijmegen), April 2019: “We’ve seen the gates of hell and the end of space and time.” (My oh my. If this was an episode of The Simpsons a big hand would appear amidst the clouds and would tear Heino straight into the hereafter. Mephistopheles would be too late, this time.)
     But Falcke is right. Indeed, after billions of years, last week the Event Horizon Telescope – the biggest magnifying-glass we’ve ever looked through – managed to take the first snapshot of a Black Hole. That, by the way, is the problem with people from Radbout University: most of the time they’re right. So don’t invite them for a visit to the local pub, because it ain’t no fun.

Know what a black hole is? No? Well, i’ll tell you. It seems quite innocent and harmless, at first sight. This it has in common with my aunt Gwendoline’s apple pies, by the way. They look like you can ignore them. Well, think twice – because once the hole, as well as the pie, has spotted you, you’ll be forced to go all the way. Why? you ask. To begin with, they’ve got the mass of let’s say, like 30 billion suns. Give or take 5 billion, - but hey, we’re talking big margins here. No big deal you say? Well, if all this mass is concentrated in one tiny spot, it is a big deal. Moreover, if the tiny spot is a piece of my aunt’s apple cake, you’ll be vomiting till dawn. Believe me.
     Actually, in my opinion the best description i’ve ever read of a black hole is this. (If i’m not mistaken it came out of the late Stephen Hawking’s brilliant mind.) Picture a spaceship leaving the earth, a nuclear clock aboard - your brother Ben is aboard too (an artist, but this is a detail). The clock goes tic-toc (one second). That’s what a clock has to do, no? Now, when the spaceship is approaching the black hole (30 billion suns, remember), we hear the clock going tic – 10 seconds – then toc. That’s what we hear on Earth, anyway, in the spaceship your brother Ben still hears tic-toc (one second). Now when the spaceship comes really close to the black hole we on Earth hear tic – 5 years – then toc. Ben still hears tic – one second – toc. Once the ships actually enters the hole… Hm, i guess i don’t have to specify things further. Bye bye, Ben. (A fine painter he was. Okay, an impressionist - but still.) Anyway, if he could return to Earth he would still be young and fresh, and you would have been dead for 5000 years. Think about that, while you still can.

Yes, time is relative.

Anyway, Heino Falcke is right: upon entering the black hole we bump into the end of space and time. Our good old laws of physics don’t seem to be working there. Bugger. That’s why Stephen Hawking was mesmerized about what could possibly, eventually, phantasmagorically, be going on in there. Artists too have been talking about these ‘black holes’, even in times when they, logically, couldn’t have the faintest idea of their existence. But, who said artists had to be logical, reasonable beings? Maybe they foresaw things… Have a look at the painting in pic 2, by Hieronymus Bosch, ‘Ascent of the Blessed’. We’re talking 15th century here, and it certainly looks like a black hole to me! An optimistic one: it’s Heaven up there. I  would certainly go whistling through that pipe (the tune would be tic-toc-tic-toc. By the second ‘tic’ you on Earth would all be dead).
     A funny one was Anish Kapoor’s black hole: Descent to limbo, one of the eye catchers on Jan Hoet’s 1992 Documenta. It’s a hole 2.5 meter deep, treated with deep black pigment, so there’s an illusion of an abysmal space. Last summer, in Porto’s Fundaçao de Serralves, a visitor toppled into the hole (tic-toc) and had to be carried off to hospital. Curiosity almost killed the cat...

Back to science. So we took this first picture of a black hole, and then, hardly a few weeks later, Notre Dame de Paris, after more than 750 years, suddenly catches fire and is almost completely burnt down. Now i must say these two phenomena, happening in the course of scarcely a month – which, in cosmic terms, is a snap of the fingers -, scared the hell out of me. There is something going on down (or up) there. In the undertow The Beast is roaring. And it knows no mercy: you bet it has never heard of Kant’s categorical imperative. Ethics? That can rot on its back. Rust its behind. It just wants to be left alone, that’s all. It doesn’t like us to come snooping around in its black holes. Its revenge will be rücksichtloss. Actually, compared to this Beast, W. Bush is a schoolboy with a catapult. Notre Dame might only be the beginning.
     I think we opened Pandora’s box. We should have stayed away from that black hole.

Don’t laugh, i’m not kidding. If this happened in a play – i would prefer it to be written by the new Harold Pinter, so: a fine, thoroughly modernist kind of play, one haunting your brain forever after you read it - the black hole and the Notre Dame would only figure as a haunting, spellbinding background to dialogues leaving lots to your imagination, but meanwhile telling us everything about the human condition. A lady, visiting her husband’s family for the first time, would for instance be sitting at a kitchen table, riffling through the papers. She says: “Hey – Notre Dame is burning.”, and lights a cigarette. Her husband, Edward, is standing against the kitchen door. His brother Jeff is playing with his boxing gloves – he’s just returned from the gym. His father, in a corner, grinning. He knows what’s about to happen. Edward asks: “Coffee, anybody?”, then walks to the coffee machine. Behind his back, his wife and brother slip into the bedroom. They make love. Edward puts four cups upon the table. His father says, tapping his son’s hand: “No sugar for me eh, son. Yes, that’s it. Good boy. It’s Jeff who wants the sugar, nay.”
     Right. That’s how Pinter would do it. The whole world would be burning (and Jeff most of all). The end of times seems near. Hm. Quite recognizable, if you ask me. I mean - this lingering fear, stacked away somewhere deep in all of us. The fear of the Beast, roaring on the other side of the black hole.

I’m sure Hollywood would do it the other way. I’m talking about a good old B-list sci-fi blockbuster. It would start with a hell of a close-up on the black hole. In High Definition, of course, about a billion times more realistic than this miserable picture taken by that telescope last week. (Why? – these scientists never learn.) Music, Jean-Michel Jarre, playing an enormous organ. On the screen you see traffic jams. Immediately right into the action. They don’t waste no time in California: when they’re not roasting on the beach you can bet they’re working fucking hard. Some of them do, anyway. Things have to get on nicely. So not only Notre Dame is burning (this would be far too weak for our oversaturated video game addicted minds), oh no, the Statue of Liberty is burning too. It’s already a quarter underwater, actually. An NYC fire squad is trying to save the crown. Close up on a fire squad volunteer, stuck under a giant thumb. “Leave him,” his Commander shouts, “there’s nothing you can do for the poor fella.” Offscreen you hear a gunshot. The poor son of a gun.

Two minutes later: the Taj Mahal: burning. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa: burning. Abu Dhabi’s Louvre: yes, burning too. Someone in the traffic jam opens his window, shouts: “Jeremiah 11:11! Climate change is developing faster than the government told us, we’ve only got 24 hours!” Panic. Everybody jumping out of cars, looking in rather a stupid way at each other. Jean Michel Jarre is thumping his keyboard even more ferociously, knowing this tune will be in the Big HipHopBeat database for years to come. “The bastards are escaping!” quite unexpectedly another one shouts. Everybody’s looking to the sky. Your movie theater neighbour stops crunching that interminably irritating bag of chips. Air Force One breasting the air, on his way to Cape Canaveral, after that, Mars. Setting up a new colony of course. They took Arnold Schwarzenegger, they want good genes for the new humankind.
     Cindy Crawford’s daughter is with them too - yes, these are the most vicious bastards one has ever seen on screen.

Bathing in sweat i wake up. “It was only a dream.”
     But was it? I stretch my arms, jump out of bed. April 18th, and weather forecast announced a bright sunny 28°. I open the curtains.

It’s snowing.

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