New edited collection Worlds Ending

New edited collection Worlds Ending. Ending Worlds: Understanding Apocalyptic Transformation 

 By Jenny Stümer

Just in time for Nikolaus, CAPAS’s first edited collection, Worlds Ending. Ending Worlds: Understanding Apocalyptic Transformation came out in early December. The book is the first in our open access series Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Studies, which we are publishing with DeGruyter, and available for download. With this book, we tried to look at apocalypse from various angles and disciplinary perspectives in order to offer a versatile discussion of the many ends of worlds that have occupied us since the early days of CAPAS.

Worlds Ending. Ending Worlds

To give you a sense of what to expect from the book, here is the lay down: Featuring a range of cutting-edge thinkers dealing with the apocalypse today (including a few favourite former CAPAS fellows), the collection highlights the polysemic nature of apocalypse, demonstrating that apocalyptic trans-formations – the various shapes of “across”, “beyond”, and “other side” implied by the end – productively entangle intriguing points of conjunction between seemingly disparate subject areas.

Moving from old worlds to new worlds, from world-ending experiences to apocalyptic imaginaries and, finally, from authoritarianism to activism and advocacy, we begin to map an emerging (if age-old) and timely ground for debate. Combining traditional eschatology and philosophical conceptualisations of world and worlding with a range of historical and contemporary apocalyptic understandings and practices, the multifaceted field we are aiming to contour makes visible the myriad ways in which collective imaginations of apocalypse underpin ethical, political, and, sometimes, individual aspirations. The apocalyptic imaginary, in other words, problematises the “World” as an inevitable background to doom and destruction; instead fracturing (and potentially rethinking) the ways humans and non-humans inhabit and belong to this Earth.

Highlighting the continuous role of eschatological apocalypticism in the mobilisation of diverse movements, performances, and ideas that grapple with the means of world-making and world-breaking politics, we seek to engage apocalypse as a mode of converging different perspectives into a productive conversation and provide key points of reference for understanding old and new predicaments that are transforming our many worlds.
Opening the collection, Tommy Lynch complicates the concept of the World as an object of apocalypticism in order to postulate a kind of ontological certainty capable of critiquing the world and its various endings. Lynch’s nuanced analysis is pivotal in initiating the multivalent possibilities of apocalyptic thinking, highlighting the multivocal nature of the concept on the one hand and stressing the universal materialism of the World as an imperialist project on the other.

Book cover

Drawing on the British Priest Ronald Knox’s apprehensive musing on the moral and cultural significance of the atomic bomb at the dawn of World War II, Alastair Lockhart traces the emergence of a godless apocalypse, or an apocalypse without meaning, in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lockhart (alongside Knox) suggests that the escalation of nuclear violence in the 1940s changes the ways apocalypse is imagined in popular culture and beyond, consequently transforming wide-ranging behaviours and systems of beliefs that thus far governed moral epistemologies, cultural practices, and political realities. 
James Crossley negotiates competing forms of apocalypticism in their relation to the emergence of English socialism by tracing the reception history of John Ball, the Priest who led the 1381 Peasant Revolt in England. Crossley argues that depictions of Ball have gone through “a process of domestication,” projecting his apocalyptic call for radical social and political transformation, first as a proto-communist threat and later as social democratic prophecy of love and peace. Crossley suggests that in providing much needed historical contextualisation, a more active and much-needed apocalypticism from below might be revived.

Shifting the focus from English politics to Latin American colonialism as a world-ending project, Paolo Vignolo explores cartographic imaginaries of the sixteenth century in order to trace the persistence of apocalyptic motifs in the visual mystification of the so-called New World. Exploring this notion of the “New World” synonymously evoked with the conquest of the Americas as both a geographical and a religious perspective, Vignolo is interested in drawing out the complex entanglements between New World rhetoric and end-of-the-world beliefs.
Expanding this discussion of the aestheticisation of geopolitical space, Patricia Zalamea discusses the development of a specific iconography in the apocalyptic representations of Latin American colonial art. Investigating the apocalyptic imaginary through images associated with Saint Francis, variations on the Immaculate Conception as well as depictions of the Last Judgement and associated imagery of purgatory, Zalamea’s analysis unpacks artistic re-conceptualisations of space and time in the Andean context.

Looking in particular at literary engagement with the southern confine, Bottinelli Wolleter’s discussion investigates the mystagogic work of disaster in order to think through the way the southern confine of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego emerge as a crossroad for intersecting forms of violence. Examining both expressions of this violence and forms of resistance through restitutive writing, this chapter engages with the apocalyptic revelations projected by literature; but also makes a case for the importance of piecing together lost or unacknowledged history through memory.

Shifting the view to the post-apocalyptic building of new worlds, Christian Long focuses on the Planet of the Apes film series in order to foreground infrastructure as a “background that speaks” in cinematic representations of dystopic space. To Long, infrastructure is crucial in understanding how film imagines the possibilities of post-apocalyptic world-building and works as a diagnostic of the social imaginaries that drive communal life in these narratives.

Staying with the critical charge of spectacular apocalyptic representations and working through the tenets of contemporary science-fiction in India, Jaideep Unudurti traces a renewed interest in traditional Hindu eschatology and apocalyptic futurities, intimating a genre-blend of Indian mythology and Western blockbuster aesthetics. Unudurti looks at the Prayala as “a complex, multimodal operation, involving the collapse of several linked worlds in the cosmic architecture,” and traces different associated apocalyptic imaginaries and their political implications in Hindutyan and Nehruvian science-fiction, respectively. 

Turning to the  context of negotiating apocalyptic politics in the grip of nationalist movements, Bruna Della Torre’s chapter explores the emerging role of an Anti-feminist coalition in the proliferation of right-wing politics in Brazil. Looking in particular at the role of gender in the political elevation of Jair Messias Bolsonaro, Della Torre identifies a conspicuous presence of right-wing women on Brazilian social media that boost the misogynistic affects of Bolsonaro’s power claim through a pointed performance of white supremacy, homophobia, hetero-normative motherhood and pro-gun agendas that ultimately demonstrate Bolsonaro’s affinity with Trumpism and National Socialism.

Shifting the view, once more, from right-wing activism to progressive movements in the context of climate emergency, Julia Grillmayr and Christine Hentschel examine the work of German philosopher Günter Anders, productively applying his well-rehearsed thoughts on the atomic bomb to a more contemporary and situated understanding of the Anthropocene. In particular, Grillmayr and Hentschel interrogate Anders’s notion of “the Frist,” as the time still granted, and his call for “moral stretching exercises” in order to develop the notion of “affective workouts” capable of mobilising a vital or “loving fear” that ultimately works “against apocalypse.”

Finally, Dan Holloway’s chapter problematises the exclusion of disabled bodies from a postapocalyptic vision of the future. Holloway identifies a significant coinciding of the subjective absence of disability with the symbolic presence of “broken bodies and broken minds,” in the apocalyptic imaginary, which function as warning and hope preparing and sustaining inequitable and damaging conceptualisations of futurity. Holloway’s impassionate call for “empowering disabled people to be subjects in the fullest sense” invokes the end the world (and the end of this collection) with a striking reimagination of eschatological transformation through inclusiveness.  

We hope that readers of the book will find these discussions insightful in forging new intellectual paths of thinking about (and with) apocalypse. As Alenka Zupančič puts it poignantly in her essay “The Apocalypse is (still) Disappointing”: “The apocalypse has already started and is becoming an active part of our life and our world, such as it is. It is not waiting for us somewhere in the future, but is dictating our social, economic, environmental conditions as we speak.”
Ultimately then, Worlds Ending. Ending Worlds neither approaches the apocalypse as unique instance nor do we propose the end as a prophetic threat. Rather, in this collection, apocalypse emerges as a series of cataclysmic transformations that recognise the need of complicating a broken world that bears the marks of countless endings, worlds, and aftermaths.

The apocalypse is (still) disappoInting