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Chapter 16 - Disaster Response in Post-2000 American Apocalyptic Fiction

from Part II - American Apocalypse in (and out of) History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2020

John Hay
Affiliation:
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Summary

In the face of growing alarm about climate change, contemporary scholars of apocalyptic fiction have begun to raise pragmatic questions about this genre’s effects: What responses does apocalyptic narrative condition readers to have before, during, and after a catastrophic event? Many critics have objected to the clichéd content of dystopian apocalyptic narratives, claiming that their bleak visions induce resignation in readers rather than a will to assert their political and personal agency. Meanwhile, a number of scholars associated with “disaster studies” have noted that the history of twentieth-century disasters suggests that people actually tend to be at their most compassionate after a catastrophe. In response to this tension, this essay takes a dialectical approach to understanding both the critical and reparative aspects of twenty-first-century American apocalyptic fiction. In the first half, it demonstrates that the violent mythmaking in this work is both symptomatic of the “elite panic” characterized by disaster studies and reflective of other decidedly American ideologies. The second half identifies how some of these same apocalyptic texts complicate or even counteract expectations of panic, theft, and violence, providing insights for how readers might cultivate cooperation and community in the wake of an apocalyptic event.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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