Apocalypse and Post-Politics: The Romance of the End
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Leigh Singer Updated: 4 November The Girl with All the Gifts New film The Girl with All the Gifts spins yet another variation on the ever-popular zombie apocalypse. But they also contain a vision of what brought us to that tipping point, and, ultimately, where we really are now. Experiencing the end, for either the survivor or the reader, allows one to project themselves past the End and see the consonance of history as a whole. It is also important to note that the historicizing power of catastrophe is not limited to the totality of the apocalypse; there have been events in history so destructive and wide-reaching that they themselves have become historical organizers.
James Berger, in After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse, addresses these instances, arguing that, They function as definitive historical divides, as ruptures, pivots, fulcrums separating what came before and what came after. Previous historical narratives are shattered; new understandings of the world are generated. Krakatoa in , the attacks of September 11th, and the eruption of Mt.
Vesuvius in 79 CE. Each of these are given the significance of a historical moment in which humanity encountered either the possibility that the earth could rid itself of human presence or that humans might just take care of the ridding themselves. They are not apocalypses, but they are turning points, the events preceding each collapsed into a narrative with an ending and therefore historicized.
As has been mentioned throughout this paper, this idea of a self-aware or universal historicism does not mean to imply that the Archimedean survivor immediately has access to that omniscience upon emerging from their bunker. Rather, all this is to say that history is transformed into this object and through that transformation, the possibility for legibility enters the arena. The survivors are then able to act acknowledging that they are in a unique position of historical understanding. At some level of consciousness or awareness, one could theoretically examine old world history as a closed set of information, a true Archimedean point.
With the information available to them, the survivor is able to analyze their history and, if they are so inclined to Re-Establish Western Civilization, discern the pathologies of the Bad Old Ways and synthesize a method for reinstituting the Good Old Ways.
For most survivors in the post-apocalyptic narrative, such a journey may prove an extravagance, and the universalized history from which they rebuild their world is contained within their perspective and memory which, while limited and distorted, represents a 14 James Andrew Berger, After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, , 5. In either case, these narratives point to a single historical source from which the Bad Old Ways may be excised and dissected; modernity.
Manjikian, when defining modernity, asserts the dominance of the culture of nationalist exceptionalism in the modernist paradigm. Manjikian argues that post-apocalyptic fiction, as it relates to the national identity of the reader and the political context in which it operates, situates the historical importance of the state and hegemony; that despairing after the end of the world is as much about the death of the state as it is the entire world.
This demise is not experienced as sudden because of the swiftness of the apocalypse or the actions of another state, but because the exceptionalist state does not ever expect its death. By historicizing modern exceptionalism, these stories allow for the readers and survivors to see beyond the rhetoric of stability and exceptionalism propagated by the state and uncover the fragility of the assumptions which fuel exceptionalism; that the paradigms and structures which define the state are correct and sustainable. These assumptions and the exceptionalism of the state are emblematic of a common starting point when dissecting the Bad Old Ways, hubris and a pre-apocalypse refusal to engage critically with the state and with history.
Whether the end of the world is the fault of the modern human or the actions of a non-human force or entity, modernity remains the subject of a post-apocalyptic historical autopsy due to its historical proximity to the cataclysm.
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It is the world in which the survivors inhabited before the apocalypse, and as such, it is the most immediately knowable chapter of history. If the survivors are concerned with establishing a cohesive narrative of the downfall of their world, they must start looking there. Beyond that, there are those unsustainable and misguided Bad Old Ways which collapsed in the apocalypse and can be found within modernity, and it is from that last chapter of history that the survivors parse the advantageous from the disadvantageous. The Archimedean survivor salvages what they can from modernity to meet the needs of the post-apocalyptic society; they can rebuild infrastructure and transportation, revive methods of communication, rediscover modern agriculture, and so on, the hallmark of these elements being their sustainability.
But more importantly, they attempt to inter the unsustainable; exceptionalism in its many forms, militarism and the technologies of war, xenophobia and hatred of other humans, and the refusal to learn from history. Salvage To this point, I have sought to identify the context and function of the Archimedean survivor.
Their presence creates an important distinction within the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction which allows for the narrative to embark on the project of Re-Establishing Western Civilization. These characters operate after a historicizing cataclysm which creates a universal history of humanity and are able to varying degrees to approach that history with a critical lens and see where humanity went wrong and what humanity had built that deserved to be resurrected in their new world.
It is modernity that is a temporary construct, and through the end, man can reformat modernity. Our history, bookended by cave paintings and cataclysms, has no observers and achieves the ontology of a photon. These are the true stories of horror, a world for which nothing can be salvaged and for which the end of mankind has no purpose.
To examine the contours of the Archimedean survivor, their difficulties, successes, complications, and how they perform this autopsy, I will turn to Walter M. The plot centers around an order of monks, the Albertian Order of Leibowitz, which operates to maintain and propagate an archive of human history from before the cataclysm. For his work to establish a history and reject the impulse of the Simplification, Leibowitz was martyred.
This trajectory from Leibowitz to his followers provides the first archetype for and complication of the trope of the Archimedean survivor. Leibowitz himself is both of that category and not; he is the compiler of history, one who is climbing up towards the Archimedean point and advocates for the value of such a perspective.
The Order established in his name comes closer to bringing this trope to life. They are compilers of history, but the history they construct is different from that which their founder archived.
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The history which they find scattered within the books of ruined schools and libraries and homes has been removed from its historical context. The availability of primary sources with which the Order performs their grand historiography is limited due to the destruction of the Simplification, and part of their task is to make a cohesive narrative from the scattered clues and hidden words, even if that narrative does not connect back to historical truth.
In her book In The Ruins of Civilization, Sybylle Machat describes such encounters between the survivors and the leftovers of modernity: Ruins thus transcend their forms and physical incarnations, leaving the spectator free to engage with them in their own right, and to fill their blank spaces with his or her own interpretations. It is thus what is absent in ruins as much as what is present that creates this dialectic of seeing, and that allows persons engaged with them to transform their physical incompleteness into complex meanings.
Each object increases their understanding of the old world. Even if that object does not unveil any grand historical truth, it is still added to the Memorabilia and, by virtue of the scarcity of evidence, is viewed with reverence as a window into the historicized past. Within a nearby fallout shelter, a young novice of the Order discovers documents which belonged to Leibowitz himself and adds to the Memorabilia a genuine relic of their patron. The documents were schematics, a panicked note to a colleague, and a shopping list.
The members of the Order also step into the trope of the Archimedean survivor in that they, unlike their patron, are active throughout the book in combing through the Memorabilia for elements of the deceased 22Sybylle Machat, In the Ruins of Civilizations: Narrative Structures, World Constructions and Physical Realities in the Post-Apocalyptic Novel, Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, , They are the coroners who can look upon the dead body they know as history and see what systems functioned well into the terminal stages of modernity.
In the second part of the book Brother Kornhoer, one of the brothers of the order, rediscovers electricity through the careful study of their archives and creates an electric light — the first to exist since the Deluge. The Order sees this as a triumph of humanity over the conditions of the wasteland, emblematic of the enduring spirit of humankind, literally lighting the way for them to rebuild their world. This centuries-long project of compilation, analysis, and reconstruction undertaken by the Order demonstrates that the Archimedean survivor is not necessarily a single person, nor does it have to be someone who embarks on a salvaging project immediately after the cataclysm.
The ability to read history, dissect modernity, and bring old things to life is a process that can take centuries. It is also possible for those survivors to read history incorrectly and fall into the progressivist traps of old modernity; what risks and dangers enter the arena when something like electricity is rediscovered? In presenting the Archimedean survivor in this way, Canticle complicates whether or not such a project should be undertaken at all. They focus mainly on character development and plot rather than action and gameplay mechanics.
Suggest updated description. Taking place after a huge catastrophe eg.