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The End of the World

The End of the World: Apocalypse and its Aftermath in Western Culture

Maria Manuel Lisboa
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 219
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  • Book Info
    The End of the World
    Book Description:

    Our fear of the world ending, like our fear of the dark, is ancient, deep-seated and perennial. It crosses boundaries of space and time, recurs in all human communities and finds expression in every aspect of cultural production – from pre-historic cave paintings to high-tech computer games. This book examines historical and imaginary scenarios of Apocalypse, the depiction of its likely triggers, and imagined landscapesin the aftermath of global destruction. Its discussion moves effortlessly from classic novels including Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, to blockbuster films such as Blade Runner, Armageddon and The Terminator. The author also takes into account religious doctrine, scientific research and the visual arts to create a penetrating, multi-disciplinarystudy that provides profound insight into one of Western culture’s darkest and most enduring preoccupations.

    eISBN: 978-1-906924-52-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Prologue
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    This book began as one thing but has ended as something quite different, which arguably is what research in general ought to be (exploration, discovery), but is, nonetheless, perplexing for the secretly teleological author. Often, if not always, at least in the Humanities, when we begin we already think we know what we will find. In this case the original intent was exactly what its title still purports it to be now: an analysis of the theme of apocalypse in works of literature, film and the visual arts. In the doing, however, the thing done, as some might have predicted...

  2. 1. Apocalypse Now and Again
    (pp. 1-16)

    In at least seven film and television re-makes, King Kong, the eponymous hero, is entrapped thanks to the frailty of elemental desire for the helpless blonde heroine, and is taken prisoner to America, the land of the free, which, being also the land of opportunity, makes the gigantic ape a profitable commodity in the capitalist market place. Any number of old and renewed preoccupations are played out here: nature versus civilization, innocence pitted against corruption, race/species confronted with its other, in the battle ground of assorted ideologies.

    The story of King Kong is among other things an unedifying translation of...

  3. 2. The World Gone M.A.D.
    (pp. 17-48)

    Even before it was actually practicable to destroy the entire planet, indeed since the dawn of earliest human consciousness, the fear of global catastrophe has informed the human psyche, resulting in persistent returns to cultural renditions of apocalypse. And while clearly the best way to calm fears isnotto suggest soothingly that one should not worry too much about the axe murderer just spotted sneaking under the bed, inThe Imagination of DisasterSusan Sontag (1979) argues that disaster films and narratives both reflect and deflect their epoch’s anxieties regarding the possibility that what at any given moment is...

  4. 3. And Then There Was Nothing: Is the End Ever Really the End?
    (pp. 49-102)

    The term palingenesis, also known as recapitulation theory or embryological parallelism, refers to that phase in the development of an individual plant or animal which theoretically repeats the evolutionary history of the taxonomic group to which it belongs. Sometimes expressed as Haeckl’s law that ontogeny (the growth or size change and the development or shape change of an individual organism) recapitulates phylogeny (the evolutionary history of a species), this theory has been extensively refuted by science but remains attractive to writers of science fiction, who have variously drawn on the idea that the development of advanced species passed through stages...

  5. 4. Falling Out with Hal and Hester
    (pp. 103-130)

    Culture has no need of time machines. The key narratives of any culture, with minor period-specific modifications, get repeated across boundaries of time as well as place and almost always have, at their basis, an awareness of the link between knowledge and power. The audacity of human intrusion into the fields of knowledge has always been seen as an act of taboo-breaking inviting extreme punishment. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were forbidden from eating the fruit of the Trees of Knowledge and of Life, the rationale being that, should they do so, they would become like God...

  6. 5. Dying of Happiness: Utopia at the End of this World
    (pp. 131-170)

    InLeviathanHobbes sees man’s nature as tending to war, including civil war (Hobbes, [1651] 1998). The desirability of avoiding this leads to the acceptance of a clear need for the restraining agency of a social contract whereby the people give up some rights to a government or other authority thereafter responsible for preserving social order through the rule of law. Any abuses of power by this authority are to be accepted as the price of peace. The principle of separation of civil, military, judicial and ecclesiastical powers is rejected in favour of absolute rule. Hobbes’s influence on political thought...

  7. Afterword: Libera Me, Domine, De Vita Æterna
    (pp. 171-176)

    So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish(Adams, 1984) is the title of the fourth volume of Douglas Adams’s seriesThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy(Adams, 1979). It is also the message left by the dolphins when they depart Earth just before it is demolished to make way for a hyper-spatial by-pass. Whether treated in comedic or tragic terms, in fiction or poetry, film or art, (and the refusal to treat it seriously might be what in the future would make the possibility more likely to become a reality), the end of the world as a theme, if...