“I don’t believe in the future. I think we’re all doomed”: The Contemporary Apocalyptic Imagination (Public lecture, 17th August)

A bleak apocalyptic landscape with a treeCome along to the first in our series of Late Summer Lectures, where Dr Diletta De Cristofaro (University of Nottingham) will take us on a tour through the apocalyptic landscapes of contemporary fiction. Her lecture will start at 17.30 on 17th August in Alington House, Durham. Free refreshments will be available from 17.15.

The lack of belief in the future, the idea that, as Douglas Coupland’s JPod (2006) puts it, “we’re all doomed”, is central to contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction. This lecture explores the contemporary apocalyptic imagination, its difference from the traditional apocalyptic paradigm, its relationship with concepts like the “Anthropocene” and the “risk society”, as well as its fundamental concern with time.

I begin by outlining a brief history of the apocalyptic imagination. Whilst we generally think of the apocalypse as a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions and consequences, something which brings about a dystopian post-apocalyptic scenario, apocalypse etymologically denotes the revelation of a utopian teleology in history. Religious apocalyptic writings, such as the Book of Revelation, flourish at a time of crisis because their narratives seek to make sense of troubled periods by revealing that history is tending towards a final resolution which paves the way for a utopian renewal. This apocalyptic conception of history as tending towards utopia founds one of the key notions of western modernity: progress. Yet the doomed futures of contemporary post-apocalyptic fictions suggest that western civilization has abandoned the modern faith in progress.

Considering novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (2014), Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods (2007), and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (2003-2013), I then explore how the contemporary apocalyptic imagination responds to the present conjuncture. To this end, I draw on the notions of Anthropocene – the geological era in which humans have significant impact on the Earth’s ecosystem – and risk society – a society preoccupied with managing and preventing risks it has itself produced. It is not merely that post-apocalyptic dystopian scenarios implicate progress in anthropogenic climate change and other proliferating risks, but that progress itself is a product of the apocalyptic temporal imagination. I therefore discuss how contemporary post-apocalyptic fictions are essentially concerned with the critique of the apocalyptic conception of time.

Late Summer Lectures 2016Future lectures in the Late Summer Lectures series will cover themes such as breathing in science fiction, the quest for the Holy Grail, and folk tales of the Lambton Worm. Join the conversation on twitter via #LateSummerLectures.



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