Forever Building Edens comes from A Canticle for Leibowitz, a novel that follows an order of monks in the post-apocalyptic United States. They, much like the monks of our own Middle Ages, are charged with the task of storing knowledge for future generations. What is striking, however, is that their illuminated documents and holy relics are our everyday items - blueprints, engines, slips of paper with grocery lists, etc.
This notion of “normal” objects becoming precious to later historical epochs is evidence of a cyclic history: civilizations rise, become unstable, and inevitably fall. Out of what remains grows a new civilization, and the cycle begins again. The new era is always fascinated with the old, studying it, examining its culture and people, trying to understand how and why it collapsed. It begs the question: what of ours will future archaeologists put in their museums to study? It also begs the more menacing question: how will our society eventually end?
Miller’s extraordinary invocation to the final part of his novel, from which the title of this work comes, illustrates the darker side of these questions. His centuries march onward, past the stirrings of fledgeling populations, their technological growth and increasingly elaborate hierarchical organizations unnoticed, its lives and deaths unmourned. It is a bleak picture indeed. Is it even possible for us to build an Eden? And, if so, what must we do differently to succeed?