All my pretty hobbyhorses.

…a new label that we can apply to our chaotic historical moment, a term that we can use when we want to evoke the panicky incoherence of our lives of late.

…Suggestions I’ve found include the Terrible Twenties, the Long 2016, the Age of Emergency, Cold War II, the Omnishambles, the Great Burning, and the Assholocene. The novelist William Gibson coined “the Jackpot” in his 2014 novel “The Peripheral” for a near-future period of intersecting apocalyptic crises, when everything seems to be happening at once. In 2016, the scholar Donna Haraway deemed our time the Chthulucene, inspired by a word derived from ancient Greek, “chthonic”—of or relating to the muddy, messy, impenetrable underworld. The artist and author James Bridle titled their 2016 book on technology and our collapsing sense of the future “New Dark Age,” taking a phrase from H. P. Lovecraft.

Honorable mention to Donna Haraway for “the Chthulucene,” which is a philosophically sophisticated concept hobbled by a name that sounds like a Flying Spaghetti Monster Epic Bacon joke if you grew up on the internet. It’s worth getting past the name, here’s a little taste of Haraway’s flow:

We are humus, not Homo, not anthropos; we are compost, not posthuman. As a suffix, the word kainos, “-cene,” signals new, recently made, fresh epochs of the thick present. To renew the biodiverse powers of terra is the sympoietic work and play of the Chthulucene. Specifically, unlike either the Anthropocene or the Capitalocene, the Chthulucene is made up of ongoing multispecies stories and practices of becoming-with in times that remain at stake, in precarious times, in which the world is not finished and the sky has not fallen — yet.

But unfortunately the name is a non-starter for broad adoption. To me the only choice is William Gibson’s “jackpot,” although he didn’t exactly coin the term. In Ploughshares Rachel Nevins excerpted Gibson’s 2014 novel “The Peripheral” where a character describes the jackpot as:

nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves.

Gibson’s jackpot is a messy, ill-defined twenty-first century polycrisis during which eighty percent of humans die. In a 2019 New Yorker profile of Gibson Joshua Rothman wrote that the jackpot is:

…a Gibsonian apocalypse: the end of the world is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed. One character reacts to the jackpot equivocally: “Either depressing and scared the fuck out of me or sort of how I’d always figured things are?”

For me what makes “jackpot” rise above options like “the terrible twenties” or the entertaining “assholocene” is its referential ambiguity. I don’t usually think of a jackpot as a negative thing. A jackpot is something you win, right? You pull a slot machine handle, the wheels spin, the cherries line up: jackpot! You scoop up the coins.

But there’s a darker edge to this word. To find yourself ”in a jackpot” means to get in a jam, to be in trouble. In 2018, Deadspin’s Timothy Burke (not sticking to sports) traced that second meaning from a 2016 baseball argument through Baltimore police slang, World War Two era Western novels, and back to Baltimore again where he found it in a 1926 Baltimore Sun article about the practice of gambling on the ownership of slaves; literally putting enslaved people “in the jackpot” of a card game.

According to at least one guy on Reddit1 this sense of jackpot “was common parlance” on cattle ranches. This thread finally reminded me where else I’ve seen “jackpot” used to mean “trouble,” and of course it was Cormac McCarthy. He used it at least twice, in “All the Pretty Horses:”

Somethin bad is goin to happen.

John Grady smoked slowly, his arms around his updrawn knees.

This is just a jackpot, said Rawlins. What this is.

…and later in “No Country For Old Men:”

Keep going, said Moss. Dont stop.

I dont want to get in some kind of a jackpot here, buddy.

Just keep going.

Ol’ Cormac has been on my mind since a re-read of Justin Taylor’s Bookforum review of “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris” earlier this week. He’s also been on Heather Havrilesky’s mind—she wrote in Ask Polly today about the difference between trying to get somewhere and just trying to exist where you are:

Gaining mastery of a new skill is mostly drudgery. You sit down and do the hard work and you marvel at how bad you are, day after day. That’s the road, and there is no end point, there is just more road, endless road. Even though we talk about passion like it’s this heavenly blast of light and sound that drives you forward to greatness, real, genuine passion often feels more like some Cormac McCarthy novel where things go from bad to worse and you never arrive anywhere at all. But somehow (also like a Cormac McCarthy novel!) the bleak trees, the pavement, the bitter cold wind, all of these things are weighty, lustrous. You are almost dead of course, always almost dead, but somehow more alive than ever.

Gibson may have given us this idea of “the jackpot,” but his novels are strictly concerned with the time before it and the time after it. As he told Joshua Rothman, he struggles to imagine what the jackpot itself looks like:

“…the few times that I’ve tried to imagine what the mood is going to be, I can’t. Even if we have total, magical good luck, and Brexit and Trump and the rest turn out as well as they possibly can, the climate will still be happening. And as its intensity and steadiness are demonstrated, and further demonstrated—I try to imagine the mood, and my mind freezes up. It’s a really grim feeling… I’ve been trying to come to terms with it, personally. And I’ve started to think that maybe I won’t be able to.”

The actual jackpot is a blank space in Gibson’s chronology. But McCarthy’s books are all jackpot. Rawlins is immediately proven right in “All The Pretty Horses:” what this is is just a jackpot, and that jackpot persists through three novels. “No Country” is a jackpot in both senses: an unexpected fortune and an unfolding disaster. Cornelius Suttree meanders through the varied and baroque jackpots of every other character in his book, as well as his own. The abortive thriller elements in “The Passenger” are a jackpot that Bobby Western can’t even bring himself to care about anymore, he’s so exhausted by a lifetime of it, and the book reflects his indifference. The crashed airplane, the missing passenger, the government agents, it’s all just more jackpot that doesn’t add up to anything.

In all of them, the plot goes “from bad to worse and you never arrive anywhere at all,” but every place along the way is “somehow more alive than ever.” McCarthy lavishes description on his landscapes like a writerly van Gogh. Here, this is from “Outer Dark:”

The country was low and swampy, sawgrass and tule, tufted hummocks among the scrub trees. He veered from the creek to gain drier ground, half running now, breaking through a patch of alder upon a small pothole out of which a heron exploded slowly and rose before him with immense and labored wingbeat.

Before dark he came upon the creek again, smaller and clear, choked with duckwort and watercress, the flat verdant ground stretching away everywhere beneath the sparse cover of trees and a coppery haze quivering like some rare dust in this twilight. The child had come awake again and begun to squall. He entered a stand of cottonwoods where the ground held moss of a fiery nitric green and which he prodded with his foot for a moment and then laid the child upon.

This is part of a hallucinatory scene where Culla Holme abandons the child of incest he and his sister Rinthy conceived and birthed. It’s yet another jackpot, but the horrors of it unfold in a world where every moment is ravishingly gorgeous, a world that’s “more alive than ever.”

Chayka closes with Adam Tooze wondering “What if the gravitational center is just kind of lost? …There isn’t any longer that anchoring; we drift in a permanent state of being out of equilibrium.” We could do worse than look to McCarthy for clues about how to survive being permanently out of equilibrium, or how not to: Just keep going. Dont stop.

On Threads, Casey Newton posted: “Remember when Flink acquired Cajoo? Well you can probably guess what was going to happen next: Izea has acquired Hoozu.” with a screenshot from The Information confirming this shocking but simultaneously inevitable news, which we all understand.

John Herrman wonders: what if phones, but too much? How is the AI content apocalypse going? “They Pay Me in Woims.” In case you have any doubts, here’s the article.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the reality behind getting paid in woims. You’ll learn what woims are, which industries use this form of payment, the pros and cons of being compensated this way, and whether you’re likely to ever be offered woims instead of money for your work.

Disney is building a town in North Carolina. Hugh Laurie has fallen on hard times. McDonald’s to compete with Panera in the red hot “fatal lemonade” market. Efforts made “to reassure undergraduates that ‘students who get B pluses at Harvard still do fine in life.’” Patreon just banned Adult baby/diaper lovers en masse, reports Samantha Cole. “I am the mother of dragons, and these are my dragons. I'm collecting galaxy marbles (Men In Black).” —Taylor Swift.

Wired layoffs rumored to be a bloodbath, as Condé continues to extricate itself from the pernicious business of journalism. Scott Nover looked at what’s going on in podcasts right now, where “by just about every metric, podcasts are still gaining popularity with listeners” but no one seems able to make the business work.

Today’s Song: “Badda (Sinais VIP)” by Bianca Oblivion, Onhell and Logan_olm

Thank you for reading Today in Tabs, the online journal of Cormac McCarthy studies. Music Intern Sam chose today’s song with immense and labored wingbeat. I probably should have saved this for tomorrow, but honestly not that much interesting happened in the tabs today so why not take a ride on some of my prettiest hobbyhorses? Please subscribe so Mother doesn’t have to sell the ranch.

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