Certain images become Rorschach tests. They capture what’s on the minds of society at a particular juncture in human history. Especially if we’re honest about what we see and feel at first glance. We become vessels for articulating the collective fears and fantasies of a specific era, all by simply blurting out our initial reaction on looking at the image of Notre-Dame in flames. In a flash, 865 years — from when a pope laid down the first foundation stone to today’s conflagration, and all the domination of clergy, colonizers, and capitalists in between — are telescoped into a mere second of unmediated, subconscious response.
For me, that initial split-second Rorschach test conjured a word, “metaphor,” and a feeling, “end times.” It was like a scene at the finale of a long, scary movie where one over-the-top image is supposed to convey cataclysm, and precisely because of the folly of the bad, bad guys.
Notre-Dame on fire looked and felt like a metaphor for all the hierarchical structures that are crumbling under their own weight almost at the same moment these days, exposed for the violence that they are — patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy, and Christian hegemony, to name a few — but that would rather burn down the whole planet (along with its mosques, synagogues, and black churches) instead of stepping aside for a new world without gods and masters. They’d rather light the torches of a global fascism than allow humanity and the nonhuman world to bask in the light of what we know is possible for all — humbled and dignified lives, meeting our needs and desires in egalitarian concert with each other. A world in which we’d make art so beautiful that it would never be in serve of inquisitions, expulsions, displacements, sexual assault, and genocide, or even tourism, and thus we’d have far more compelling reasons to mourn its loss.