Joseph Brean :

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia CommonsKalki, the final avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, in an illustration from the 1880 book The Ten Principal Avataras of the Hindus.

In his novel Kalki, the late Gore Vidal invents a doomsday cult led by a charismatic blond American who claims to be the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu, a destroyer of filth whose arrival on a white horse heralds the apocalypse. He turns out to be a con man whose scheming wipes out humanity all the same.

As a political story told through the cycles of Hindu mythology, Kalki clashed with the culture when it was published in 1978, just as the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” was about to break. Boomer readers, then in their youthful prime, did not warm to these ideas about an aeon ending in a violent orgy of purification, clearing the way for a new golden age. They did not feel they were at an ending. With war behind them, an undervalued stock market and a rising dollar, they were just getting started on the 1980s. The book sold poorly.

One reason is that Americans, unlike Hindu mystics, see time as linear and incremental. Manifest Destiny, the founding myth of America, only works in one direction: forward. History may be progressive or conservative, but it is not cyclical. Measuring time by cycles in the stars or the seasons, let alone in mythology, is a historical throwback, only relevant today for farmers and astrologers. Modern history does not repeat. It is just one damn thing after another.


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