CONFERENCE TALK: Apocalyptic Imaginaries and the Aesthetics of Imminent End
In March, at the 2016 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference, I presented on apocalyptic fiction’s aesthetic investments. Here’s the abstract:
Where dystopia in fiction and film typically suggests itself as a kind of anti-aesthetic space, the possibilities of beauty and imagination having been expunged by some constricting totality, contemporary apocalyptic narratives often fixate on aesthetic possibility over and against a landscape that seems to foreclose it. Before the fall, cataclysm offers itself as the only spectacle grand enough to warrant cinematic or painterly vision in a landscape of lesser dramas. After, the rebooting of aesthetic possibility is often the most immediate figure for possibility writ large—only when we can once again conjure beauty, sing arias, and assemble imaginary worlds are we worthy of new beginnings. By tracing a spectrum of apocalypse’s aesthetic investments from the spectacular apocalyptic event (Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road) to the post-apocalyptic rebirth of beauty and imagination (Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Zero), this paper will articulate a theory of apocalypse’s relationship to aesthetic possibility—a relationship essential to apocalyptic fictions’ potential to restore the capacity for radical imagination.