Tag Archives: apocalypse

  • Romanticism, Then and Now, Now and Then

    The Romantic world was a time of revolution, protest, politics – and climate change. With the release of his fascinating new book, Romantic Revelations author Chris Washington shares how, two-hundred years later, the focus remains anthropocentric.


    The Romantic world I explore in Romantic Revelations was a time of climate change, particularly exemplified by 1816, “the year without a summer,” in which the Shelleys and Byron hunkered down in a chateau reading ghost stories and failing to write them. Well, except Mary of course who completed Frankenstein. It was also a time of revolution and protest although that was not the focus of my book. But a few recent developments with global implications for climate change seem to me to resonate with Romanticism as a mode of thinking in, with, and against the Anthropocene.

    On October 31, 2018, a thousand plus members of the Extinction Rebellion collective assembled in London at Parliament Square to protest government inaction on climate change. Over the course of the next several weeks, dozens of arrests were made at multiple Extinction Rebellion stagings of civil disobedience.

    And yet, for all the good climate change protests like Extinction Rebellion arguably do in continuing to bring attention to this urgent issue and to pressure governments to take action, stated aims and goals of such protests very often fail to include nonhumans as subjects of attention, care, preservation, and life. The focus remains anthropocentric: how do we save the human species from the result of its own self-death-dealing, from the destruction of the natural world that they have in fact destroyed? A certain species-wide narcissism seems to persist. We must save ourselves at all costs.

    Consider then a new study of climate change that might temporally locate the Anthropocene elsewhen. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have shown how the genocidal settler colonialism of the Americas killed around 90% of the Indigenous population – 56 million people – and that Indigenous genocide produced other catastrophic results, including the drastic cooling of the earth’s climate that may be the inauguration of what we think of as contemporary climate change. Their study reminds us that not only may the history of the Anthropocene be different than we think but that we tend to think of climate change as the extinction of “we” humans as a collective, but it is also of course deeply linked to colonization, racism, sexism, ethnocentricism, and speciesism, affecting non-white euro-populations more drastically than “we” often take into account. And as another recent study finds, humans have killed off 60% of different animal populations in the last 50 years.

    Romantic Revelations does not directly address either Extinction Rebellion (which occurred after its writing) or the genocide of Indigenous peoples. However, the book does speak to such events.

    Romanticism offers a radical hospitality, a kind of ethos perhaps, that we desperately need to adjust to and attempt to survive in the Anthropocene. This hospitality demonstrates a need not for a politics based on democratic equality, but rather for a new type of social living arrangement that affords equality to all humans and nonhumans on the basis of difference. To put it in terms of the ongoing climate change protest movements of today, Romanticism resists calls for a universalized humanity. It asks us instead to recognize differences amongst humans and to accept those differences in an intersectional fashion that invites others in precisely because of difference, precisely because difference should be celebrated. The radical hospitality of Romanticism seeks to multiply difference rather than cling to the dangerous belief in this thing called a “human.”

    Mary Shelley’s second novel, The Last Man (1826), opens onto similar problems of extinction and climate change. In the book, straggles of leftover humans sludge through a world devastated by plague and pestilence. While the novel appears to aggressively inhabit and propose a kind of nihilism, I find such texts to be hopeful. Because it is only when all hope is lost, when there is no hope, that hope can emerge – that, after all, is the nature of hope. Post-apocalyptic Romanticism, in other words, is ultimately about happy endings. Or so it is if we heed the call of hospitality, especially towards those nonhumans who we overlook in our narcissism-fueled climate discussions and everyday practices of full-throttle capitalistic consumption. Given that these same practices are what created the crisis in the first place, it appears that our rapacious eating of animals, say, needs to stop. It may well be, even, that the only way to save ourselves is to save those who cannot save themselves.

    Hospitality of this Romantic sort is also, then, a kind of love towards the other, a love that can extend to collectives or to interpersonal relationships. Consider, for instance, this nonhuman vignette. Two insects from 54 million years ago found preserved in amber, preserved in an embrace, a final act of loving and love, a preservation, perhaps, of their love? Except we don’t know whether they are in love. Maybe to assume so is to anthropomorphize them. We don’t know anything about them other than that they are suspended in an act of reproduction that does not reproduce. Perhaps this amber tableau offers a metaphor for humans as well. While we may think we are reproducing a human species for the future the truth is there may be no future for humans. It would seem a wise reminder that we should love each other now, while we can, before our fate is sealed in amber.


    Chris Washington is Assistant Professor of English at Francis Marion University, and the author of Romantic Revelations: Visions of Post-Apocalyptic Life and Hope in the Anthropocene.

  • From Zombies to Christ, Bringing Darkness to Light

    Written by guest blogger James R. Crooke.

    Zombies, as we know them in pop-culture—apocalyptic, cannibalistic, infectious-plague monsters—were first depicted in George A. Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, which pioneered an entirely new horror genre: the zombie apocalypse. This was the first time zombies communicated, and they have been communicating meaningfully ever since.

    A typical trope of their message is the indictment of human societies and, consequently, human nature. Philosopher-filmmakers aim to scare us with our nature and prick our consciences by bringing darkness to light, exposing what is evil and ugly.

    Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002) exemplifies this par excellence. Its sufficiently zombie-like rage-monster was inspired partly by his objections to the social intolerance and distemper of the nineties, when rage was all the rage. It provoked him to ask: why are we like this?[1] One purpose of the movie, then, was to shine a spotlight on the audience, so that they might reflect on this predicament and ask the same question. Among other things, he achieves this by using two staple cinematic devices of the genre, disfiguration and comparison.

    Disfiguration concretises the human spirit, fashioning a monster in our image. Generally, it externalises some particular sub-rational, aberrant trait in order to give definite form to it. Boyle’s monster externalises rage, which mirrors our own rage back at us, so we might see it for what it is. Comparison reinforces disfiguration when survivors’ behaviour conforms to the monsters’. This blurs the lines between human and zombie, signalling the real monster: us. Boyle’s narrative develops so that one protagonist, Jim, eventually behaves so indistinguishably from a rage-monster that another protagonist almost dispatches him. Most startling is that his behaviour, whilst monstrous, is so recognisably human.

    Anyone who agrees with this comparison will recognise how relevant Boyle’s critique is to a culture wherein rage is still so pervasive that, since 2014, various media outlets have judged every year a year of outrage.[2] We are behaving like a horde of zombies biting and devouring one another. Zombies, then, cut through the philosophical fog of postmodernist agnosticism to expose boundaries, distant and hazy horizons recollected. Whatever intellectual doubts we might have about normative humanness, Boyle’s zombie reassures us that we know that rage is not it. Frozen in its headlights, we are exposed, and yet enlightened that rage dehumanises us. The corollary of this realisation is the sense that we are, or should be, greater than this; that our capacity to rage and our succumbing to rage indicate the loss of a significant stature or dignity.

    As my article, “Zombies! ‘They’re Us’”, demonstrates I am not only interested in cultural exegesis but in how a Christian theological hermeneutic of culture interacts with pop-cultural phenomena, their worlds and their transcendentals. With respect to the analysis above, Christian anthropology has continuities with Boyle’s representations. It affirms that rage-monsters tell the truth about ourselves: rage is a dehumanising, destructive evil, not a rational, creative good, and our capacity for rage is indicative of a ruined state. It affirms the desire for dignity this assumes, and the paradoxical juxtaposition of darkness and dignity in the human condition. But it wants to fill the conspicuous silence of his representation—and indeed in zombie movies generally—concerning the cause of this darkness. The Christian faith answers Boyle’s question by shining a light on an even darker, sub-rational force then rage: sin. Explanations of sin differ in Christian discourse (e.g. self-incurvature, pride, self-love, idolatry, enmity against the Creator, transgressing the Creator-creature distinction), but whatever the preferred term, this radical corruption at the centre of our personhood is the Christian answer to Boyle’s question, rejecting merely social explanations or justifications for rage.

    The Christian response, however, is not merely an epistemological claim, but a soteriological claim. Christianity responds to the human darkness and longings for human dignity exposed in ragemonster representation by reassuring us that all is not lost and inviting us to bring this darkness to the light, to a dignity restored in the image of the one, who said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness”[3]—Jesus Christ.

    James R. Crooke is an independent scholar and contributor to the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. His latest article, “Zombies! ‘They’re Us’” is temporarily free to read here.

    Notes

    1 Boyle, Danny and Dunham, Brent. Danny Boyle: Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), 72.

    Hollywood Archive. “’28 Days Later' Danny Boyle Interview”. youtube.com, YouTube Video, 4:25, 27 July 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grm1oJYR25k (accessed February 15, 2019), 0:27-0:30

    2 Turner, Julia, et al. “2014: The Year of Outrage.” Slate.com, Slate Magazine, 17 Dec. 2014, www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2014/12/ the_year_of_outrage_2014_everything_you_were_angry_about_on_social_media.html (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Berlatsky, Noah. “The Year in Outrage: Our Constant Indignation Is Wearying, but Often Necessary.” Latimes.com, Los Angeles Times, 22 Dec. 2015, www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/laoe-1222-berlatsky-year-in-outrage-20151222-story.html (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Hislop, Ian. “The Age of Outrage.” Newstatesman.com, New Statesman, 5 Dec. 2016, www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/12/age-outrage (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Hewitt, Hugh. “2017 Is the Year of Outrage at Anything and Everything.” Businesstimes.com, The Business Times, The Business Times, 1 Jan. 4200, www.businesstimes.com.sg/life-culture/2017is-the-year-of-outrage-at-anything-and-everything (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Friedersdorf, Conor. “Reflections on a Year of Outrage.” Theatlantic.com, Atlantic Media Company, 30 Dec. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/year-of-outrage/579100/ (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Williams, Rob. “2019 Looks Like Another 'Year of Outrage' For Publishers. Mediapost.com, MediaPost, 23 Jan. 2019, www.mediapost.com/publications/article/330913/2019-looks-likeanother-year-of-outrage-for-publ.html?edition=112568 (accessed February 15, 2019).

    3 John 12:46 (ESV).

    Images Caption

    A shot of me finding light in the darkness.

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