Apocalypse and the trailing stereotypes

Jenna McFarland

Essay 1

When one hears the word “Apocalypse“, they are quick to associate it with the movies or tv shows, such as The Walking Dead. A majority of these associations are put with zombies, or the ending of the world. When registering, I was aware that I needed to take a literature class at the 300-level, and ill let you know that I instantly skipped over this class. Black Apocalyptic Fiction, who would want to study a whole semester on the destruction of the world? Well, to my surprise when I was making my schedule, this class was the only one that fit. I gave it some time, I thought it out, and primarily thought on the idea that other people wouldnt sign up for this class if it was that bad. But then I was worried they knew something I didn’t about it. All this being said, I was eager to find out and even more eager to get into the classroom. When the syllabus was released, I instantly went to look at the required books, and was instantly taken back as they seemed to be the complete opposite of what I thought. Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, has bright colors on the cover, and a figure with wings. Doesn’t really define my idea of apocalyptic.

So far, every article we have read or discussed has been somewhat related to an apocalyptic event, but in each way, they all contain different circumstances when related to the end of a world. One of the first articles we read ‘Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimisms Apocalyptic Thought’ written by Andrew Santana Kaplan, discusses the meaning of apocalypse and how it corresponds to the ending of the world, and in an individualistic realm. He explains that anything apocalyptic comes with a list of errors and mistakes that are often made within that said world. Looking back on this article, I found it rather challenging to understand. I found myself rereading it multiple times, and often searching words to try and understand their meaning in the context. Thankfully, when this article was discussed in class, I was relieved to know that some of my peers were also struggling to understand the meaning. With what was discussed in class, I took away from this article that in order to end something, the current world must be destroyed. The example used, was the discussion of racism and that for it to be removed from society, the world must be destroyed indefinitely. I can say though, that after reading this article, it opened a new perspective for me when understanding the world apocalyptic.

It wasn’t until we fully read through Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, that I felt helped broaden my understanding of the word apocalypse. From the quick shift of Kaplans article to Wild Seed, I felt that it set up a better structure when thinking about the different definitions that come with a strong word like apocalypse. In Octavia Butlers book, we see apocalypse being used in multiple ways, as said characters, begin to transition, which in this story is the time period that the characters have before they begin developing their special powers and begin taking notice to the changing worlds around them, as they continue to switch lives. In this story, we see Doros world come crashing down, as well as Anyanwus. We get to see apocalyptic being used in two different ways. Doro, who we understand went through his first transition of life at the age of thirteen, has a sudden realization that “he could have and do absolutely anything” (Butler). Throughout his long lived life, he noticed how destructive he was to everyone around him, and the lives of his children. Doro begins to notice that in order for him to keep Anyanwu in his life, he needs to dramatically change his ways. By doing this, Doro will begin to see the life he knew get destroyed. Anyanwu begins to see her life change as Doro shows her all the unknown aspects of life. She’s been pulled away from her home, lost multiple children, and watched as everyone around her continued on. She was used to breed, in hopes that a new life could be created with the powers she has. Although her life wasn’t destroyed, she faced a personal apocalypse as she struggled to free herself from Doro.

If I was to walk away with something from this book, it would be the understanding of the struggles that power has on the world. Doro, in this story as we know, holds the most power. He uses it to take complete control over everyone in his community and searches for new people to constantly breed. He remains consistent with his complex of superiority and continues to view himself as the best man to walk the earth. Its interesting to see how Doros view on life changes. He wishes he could be better, and avoid hurting the people that walk beside him. He repeats and emphasizes “You belong with me; with the people, im gathering. We are people you can be part of-people you need not frighten or bribe into letting you live” (Butler 23). In the ending, we see Anyanwu recognize the two sides and tries to move forward in the situation that could’ve turned apocalyptic. She knew that she no longer wanted to live and knew that the only way for death was suicide, “Despite all his talk he was betraying her. Despite all the joy they had just given each other, he could not forgo the kill… So be it; She was tired” (Butler 275). For the first time, I saw death being included with apocalyptic in a book that didn’t involve anything horror.

Moving forward, we’ve elaborated and explored, and primarily concluded a majority of the apocalyptic terms. All these stories leave me curious as too if now there’s a difference between a personal apocalypse or a total apocalypse. For the remainder of this class, I want to continue expanding my thoughts on apocalyptic thinking and understand how it can be added to literature in ways that are unique.

Dead Ted: Head (of State?)

In 21st century America, we define disability socially and physically. It is easy to think of examples of how being physically disabled can impact someone’s life. For example, someone who has nerve damage in their hands might struggle to write or type, two skills which are often mandatory in office jobs and in schools. This particular problem can be mitigated through a tool such as voice-to-text technology, which has become more accessible during this century. However, accommodation technology is not always widely available, either due to to its non-existence or how expensive it is to produce. People in America often live with chronic pain and barriers to various environments. Therefore, it is prudent to claim that disability takes a physical toll on disabled people at the moment.

In the apocalyptic worlds of Wild Seed by Octavia Butler* and American Desert by Percival Everett, “disability” is an inherently different designation from that of late 2oth-21st century American society. Both of these novels imply that a new type of person will inherit the Earth: In Wild Seed, that “type” is humans with extraordinary abilities, and in American Desert, it is a headless man who is incredibly resistant against physical destruction. Both of these novels explore the value in a body, and therefore each relate to the question of whether a body can lack value in these societies. In Wild Seed, Doro and Anyanwu, the most powerful and long-lived people known, create new definitions of ability and disability in part because they cultivate and breed a group which has abilities they favor. In American Desert, Ted’s mere existence ontologically challenges disability in his universe, as it reverses the association of closeness to death with powerlessness and liveliness with power. Despite Ted’s revolutionary potential, he ultimately decides to die rather than continue unliving in such a distinct way. While his existence fundamentally creates a problem for ableist society, I believe that he resolves it himself.

The American/Western concept of “health” is not only defined by this physical toll, but on an individual’s appearance. People can outwardly show traits which can make others view them as disabled, regardless of their actual medical needs. Rather than being accommodated in public, many visibly disabled people are treated very poorly. People in wheelchairs, for example, are quire visibly disabled. Strangers who might be well-intentioned often push people in wheelchairs in order to help them move. Sometimes, people may exploit the fact that someone is in a wheelchair and physically or sexually assault them. Visibly disabled people can also face barriers to employment, bullying, and other forms of discrimination. This hatred goes beyond these public displays. Instead, hatred of disabled people is deeply rooted in “Western” countries such as America, Canada, and Germany to the point where the right of disabled people to live is often disputed. A common response to the existence of visibly disabled people is that of eugenics. Eugenics is when a society rejects the existence of disabled people, and anyone who is physically considered to be “undesirable”. Eugenics can look like the Nazi party massacring disabled people, but eugenics can take other forms. Notably, eugenics is often perpetuated through reproductive control. In Canada, Indigenous people are still sometimes forcibly sterilized. In the 1900s, the U.S. Supreme court permitted forced sterilization of disabled people in the case Buck v. Bell. Sperm banks generally require that their donors be above 5’8, “intelligent,” and in good physical health. It is therefore clear to me that health is an important marker of class within “Western” society, and that the definition of disability is inherently tied to what the ruling class values in a person.

While the society which Doro is breeding into existence in Wild Seed does not specifically value health, it also does not engage in efforts to accommodate physically and visibly disabled people. This lack of accommodations seems to stem from apathy rather than antipathy. Doro breeds people because he feels “utterly alone, forever alone” in his abilities and immortality (372). He wants people to match him in both aspects. There are people in the world with some abilities, but none which match his own. In collecting and breeding them, their abilities can evolve and grow in strength. It is easy to assume that this system might create a society in which there is an easily identifiable caste system based on one’s adherence to Doro’s standards. However, Doro does not care much about the people in his colonies, save for their ability to birth long-lived people with extraordinary abilities, such as the ability to see into another’s mind. While the people with abilities, his breeders, are prized by Doro, they are only necessary for producing the next generation. After they have served their function of reproducing, or even during this process, should Doro choose to inhabit their body, they are often killed. The breeders are quite vulnerable to Doro, as he finds that he takes the “greatest pleasure” from consuming people with abilities (370). Indeed, there are no groups which I can think of that are more likely to be culled, as Doro claims that “age, race, sex, physical appearance, and except in extreme cases, health, did not affect his enjoyment of victims” (370). This lack of care, while being eugenicist in the sense that Doro is creating a society which might eventually breed out powerless people, largely lacks the forms of ableism which are present in Western societies today. Doro states that many of his children have “hideous bodies,” whereas Anyanwu’s children are all “beautiful” (294). This passage is vague about the exact definition of “hideous” and “beautiful.” I take Doro’s apathy toward disability, combined with Anyanwu’s assertion from early in the novel that her children have no “‘forbidden things’ wrong with them,” a category which includes “almost any deformity,” to mean that Doro’s children are visibly disabled, and Anyanwu’s are not. Doro does not seek to cause harm to his disabled children in particular, nor does he attempt to breed out the disabled bodies he produces.

Even so, Doro’s society is absolutely not a place where people are cared for or accommodated. Doro does not care about the physical toll of the abilities he forces onto others. He pays close attention to Nweke, his daughter, as he believes that her mind-reading abilities will make her his “next Anyanwu,” a woman who will better than Anyanwu in her compliance and, possibly, in the strength of her abilities (374). However, Nweke never replaces Anyanwu; the agony of her transition to power causes her to become so violent that Isaac has to kill her. Doro is disappointed by this death. However, his disappointment is not because he is sad that Nweke has been crushed, an agonizing death, but because she had been “all Doro had hoped for and more” and is now lost to him (392). This lack of accommodations becomes particularly problematic because of Anyanwu, who does care about her children not being disabled. Anyanwu’s reproductive system is fundamentally ableist, as she is able to “look inside herself and control or alter what she saw there,” (111), an ability which she uses to ends such as finding a medicine to help Isaac’s heart (396). Additionally, she considers incest, a practice which often leads to physical illnesses and deformities, to be an “abomination” (262). While none of these pieces of evidence individually prove that Anyanwu’s children are “perfect” because she makes them that way, the control she wields over her body combined with her beliefs leads me to believe that this is the case. Anyanwu’s village is also not separate from the world; people arrive to it, and it is eventually connected to Doro’s seed villages. The juxtaposition between the disabled people from elsewhere and Anyanwu’s children is stark. Anyanwu’s beliefs about society do not have a larger impact than Doro’s, but she has an opinion on the matter while Doro remains apathetic. She is extremely powerful through her extraordinary abilities and eventual leadership positions. Additionally, she is the primary “healer” wherever she goes, and so the changes she makes to a person’s body are seen as positive ones. Her opinions therefore have social consequences. Consequently, I think that the social model of disability is present within the society which Anyanwu and Doro are building. Components of the disabled identity are changing as people are bred to have these abilities, but the category of “disabled person” remains distinct within this new world.

In Percival Everett’s American Desert, however, the world of ability and disability is sent into a crisis when Ted rises from his coffin, head stitched on. He is able to see memories with clarity. He does not feel pain. He can be shot and not be impacted at all (191). He has even had his personality changed in death, becoming more empathetic and at peace with his circumstances. All of these are traits we would associate with ability, not disability. Disabled people can experience, depending on their disability, memory loss, physical pain, and/or a lack of empathy. Therefore, Ted’s death has technically made him closer to ability. This is, in Kaplan’s language, an impossibility within our grammar. Disability is associated with death in the context of American social Darwinism; the “weaker,” or disabled, party will be beaten by the abled party, and the consequence for being beaten in social Darwinism is death. However, this idea is reversed in Ted’s body, as he indeed has transcended the life which is the ephemeral ticket of able-bodied people into their idea of supremacy. The fact that his death leads to his new, stronger form reminds me of how Kaplan describes Afropessimism. They specifically cite the philosopher Žižek, who stated in The Puppet and the Dwarf that “We are one with God only when God is no longer one with Himself, but abandons Himself, ‘internalizes’ the radical distance which separates us from Him. … [O]nly when I experience the infinite pain of separation from God do I share an experience with God Himself” (91). What Kaplan derives from Žižek’s words is that the messianic action of emptying the self of life, of giving oneself to death, makes death a path to becoming like God. Kaplan continues in their analysis, going on to claim that lynching is a reiteration of the death which came from chattel slavery, and that Afropessimists must “reconceive the messianic subtracted from the narratology of redemption” (76). I believe that this idea is fundamental to an understanding of disability within American Desert. Ted is not redeemed through death, and neither is his society. In life, he cheated on his wife; in death, she still cannot fully forgive him (209). His death does not redefine disability to anyone, himself included: when he sees the cloned Jesus Christs with their physical and cognitive disabilities, he feels moved by the “mere fact” that one of them (Jesus #19) offers to him “a response of sorts” (207). In feeling so moved, Ted is both demonstrating his assumption that the Jesuses would not be able to respond to him, and is moving beyond this assumption by feeling emotionally moved by this other undead man. The past consists of these forms of denial of justice. Ted’s life-in-death gives him the hypothetical opportunity to create a more just society by burying these ideas of what it means to be a living person. He does not have to return to his life with Gloria; if he so chooses, he can associate with Avery and the Jesuses. Clancy asks Ted to “imagine an army of men like you,” and I can, just not for the government’s sake (167). In taking up arms against the world, Ted, Avery, and whatever Jesuses he could create could render the association between disability and death incoherent through an unfathomable bloodbath, and then through a recreation of the dead.

Of course, this idea is unfathomable for Ted, which is why he never falls in with any of the zealots he encounters. He is incredibly powerful, but he would never commit to the “apocalyptic laying hold of gratuitous violence in the name of gratuitous messianic freedom” (82). Ted is not a revolutionary, and even if he were, there is no one following him. He consequently comes home to his family, but it is too late, as they have rejected him. Gloria feels anger toward him for returning from the dead when his family would have been better off without him. Without Ted, she could meet a better romantic partner, and the children would not have to be haunted by the existential problems which Ted’s unlife raises for them. She is correct: Ted cannot return to his family. In doing so, he devotes himself to the fantasy of living a redeemed life as a dead man in a fundamentally ableist society. Because he has not rejected the unjust world in which he died, he will never be able to find his place in life. Additionally, Ted is afraid of his revolutionary potential, claiming that “the idea that he could not be hurt became a terrifying thought” (259). He goes on to state that he now correctly fears power. Of course, he is the power that he fears, as he does not need to fear death, the fundamental threat of American society. The only way to resolve this tension between Dead Ted and a society which cannot bear his resurrection is for him to leave forever, and so he does. While Ted’s unlife is threatening, his final death returns the world to its former, life-conforming state. His family will get to feel that he is at peace, and move on with their lives without him. Therefore, American Desert appears to be a challenge to ableist patterns, but its real moral focus is with the individual family which Ted attempts to live with after he has already changed in a way which they cannot handle on top of his previous wrongs.

While both Wild Seed and American Desert address disability in incredibly complex ways, neither of them feature a society which outright rejects ableism. I would not expect either of them to. Both of these texts follow individuals, if powerful individuals, and the struggle against the ideals which have been ingrained into them is incredible. Additionally, while Doro and Anyanwu have the resources, time, family support, and ability to reconstruct society, Ted does not have access to the power structures they have built. Even though he might have outlived everyone except for Jesus #19, there was no actual possibility of him facilitating a revolution beyond the realm of philosophy. To me, these texts enrich the revolutionary premises which surround these characters, because they engage with the social complexity of these collapsing apocalypses.

*online edition

Piper, Spencer, Bailey, Ronald, and Mackenize 

A Liquid is, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, flowing freely like water, not being a solid nor gas, something that holds its volume. Liquidity, according to Investopedia, is the conversion or receiving of an asset that is transferred with ease and remains in its current form. Cash is the liquid asset according to Investopedia, but in the context of King Lear, the liquid asset might be considered the kingdom’s property or wealth. Swapping is the exchange of one thing for another according to the Oxford dictionary. This can be financial or non-financial and is in essence a trade between two or more parties/individuals, which can be seen with multiple examples within the play, King Lear.

King Lear freely gives away his land or assets to his daughters in exchange for compliments and flattery, which demonstrates liquidation. He makes this offer bluntly when he declares, “Interest of territory, cares of state– Which of you shall we say doth love us most, That we our largest bounty may extend” (Act. 1, Sc. 1, King Lear). Additionally, when Edmund leads on both Goneril and Regan with his affections, it demonstrates a human’s ability to swap between people easily, to move attention from one person to another without much thought. This all stems back to the human condition, which is characterized as the behaviors that define human existence. People committing fraud, having property(ies) liquidated/swapped, etc. are all elements of the human condition and have always been. For example, when the school’s administration threatened to cut adjunct teachers during the pandemic this is an example of them attempting to liquidate an asset. They practiced bad faith when they failed to work with the teacher’s union during the pandemic. Another example of fraud in terms of swapping would be taking someone else’s work and presenting it as your own. Environments and circumstances can change; however, the conditions surrounding certain financial aspects are always similar. 

Human emotions and reactions can differ wildly depending on the situation, financial or not. What is “right” and “wrong” has changed over time and can still be objective even today. What might be “fraud” to one might be considered a justified retaliation to another, which can lead to people getting caught up in bad practices. For example, Lear has practiced poor judgment and gave status and holdings to the daughter who fed him the best compliments and comments: not based on merit or skill to run a kingdom. Deception is often heavily involved with swapping and liquidity, the end results benefit one person and negatively affect the other, people are deceived and tricked into being expelled from their homes.  

Apocalyptic Nature of “Wild Seed”

“Wild Seed”, by Octavia Butler, is a novel that plays with the system of slavery within a community as a powerful being, Doro, uses people with valuable powers to create stronger generations for the future. Doro’s superiority complex makes him a threat to all those he comes into contact with because if they do not behave, speak, or perform in the way he desires, their lives could be in immediate danger. Throughout the novel, Doro acts time and time again in bad faith because of his self-assigned purpose of breeding the best seeds together and creating prevailing humans he can use for whatever purposes he deems necessary. Doro’s veiled fear of being alone in the world can also be a striving motive behind his horrible actions because distress and concern can make it extremely difficult to act in good faith. Doro’s followers are either unaware of or uninterested in their treatment by Doro. Doro consistently treats his followers with malice and continues to do so for so long because of their blind devotion to him. The apocalyptic nature of “Wild Seed” is displayed through Anyanwu’s experiences since meeting Doro as she is forced to play his games with threats to her family constantly hung over her head.

            Throughout the novel “Wild Seed”, it is apparent that Doro views himself as superior to all of those around him. Doro uses his age as well as his powers to belittle Anyanwu, to force his followers into submission, and to dominate the rest of the world. From the very beginning of Doro’s acquaintance with Anyanwu, Doro thought to himself, “But once she was isolated in America with an infant to care for, she would learn submissiveness” (Butler, page 29). Doro planned to strip Anyanwu of her independence, her defiance, and her freedom by tying her down with children whom she would feel compelled to look after and protect. Doro maintains a consistent superiority complex throughout the novel because he views himself as the best specimen to walk the Earth. A phrase one of my classmates said that stuck with me is how Doro’s sole purpose in his life is to breed “a world of little hims”. He does not wish to live his life adventuring all of the land around him, finding the love of his very long life, or ridding the world of all of the evil people within it. Instead, Doro wishes to better the future rather than the present by breeding large communities of people similar, but in few ways comparable, to him.

The practices of bad faith were discussed and explored by the class early in the semester. We concluded that some bad faith practices included deception, dishonesty, absorption, closed mindedness, antagonism, domination, and isolation. While Doro kills and takes over people’s bodies in order to keep his youth and inherently survive, there are also times when Doro kills solely to threaten and scare others into submission or simply to prove his powerful nature. For example, after Doro took over the body of a 7-year-old enslaved child and then allowed the body to be cut in half by a machete, Doro then took over the body of the young man he was trying to convince to allow him and Anyanwu to cross the river. Following these awful murders, Anyanwu noted, “He could turn from two casual murders and speak to her as though nothing had happened. He was clearly annoyed that he had had to kill the young man, but annoyance seemed to be all he felt” (Butler, page 37). This level of gratuitousness occurs multiple times throughout the novel, as Doro so often kills in bad faith merely because he can. Another illustration of Doro’s bad-faithed nature occurs at the cost of the life of Thomas, Nweke’s father. After Doro forcefully breeds Anyanwu with the hideous and lifeless Thomas to punish her for misbehaving and disobeying, Doro learns thar the two have become familiar with each other and he becomes unnecessarily jealous and spiteful of their relationship. Doro maliciously kills and takes over Thomas’ body to spite Anyanwu and then commands Anyanwu to bury Doro’s old body. Anyanwu reflected, “He [Doro] did not let his people forget what he was, but his reminders were discreet and surprisingly gentle. If they had not been… if Doro flaunted his power before others as he was flaunting it now before her, even his most faithful worshipers would have fled from him” (Butler, page 186). Doro discriminates based on the capabilities and usefulness of his people. The class considered the idea of fungibility, or the ability to be replaced, and recognized that Anyanwu is a very rare and valuable seed for Doro to use whereas his other followers are “disposable” in Doro’s eyes. By ignoring the loyalty and dependency of his followers, Doro highlights his lack of integrity and regard for his people.

Andrew Santana Kaplan’s article, “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought”, parallels well with Butler’s novel, “Wild Seed”, because of its description of slavery and the negative effects that the system has on human beings. Doro is essentially enslaving his devoted followers in their own communities through intimidation, force, and in many instances death. Kaplan’s article emphasizes how an enslaved person is “reduced to the state of an animal” (Kaplan, page 72). Doro treats his followers like animals as he picks and chooses who to breed together, without giving second thought to their own opinions on the matter and whether they are related or not. Doro raises generation after generation and teaches them to worship him. He convinces each person that their purpose in life is to be useful to Doro and do whatever he commands them because he always knows best. Doro thinks of Nweke as his property as he considers, “The daughter [Nweke] had been his from the moment of her conception – his property as surely as though his brand were burned into her flesh. She even thought of herself as his property” (Butler, page 159). Doro continues to treat Nweke as his property as he disregards her pain and suffering and solely pays attention to the success of her transition in reaching her full potential with her powers. Kaplan further explains the effects of slavery on peoples by illuminating, “slavery annulled lives, transforming men and women into dead matter, and then resuscitated them for servitude” (Kaplan, page 72). Kaplan underlines how enslaved people are destroyed as human beings and brought back to life merely to serve purposes for other people’s goals and ambitions. Doro’s blinded supporters are used to help Doro breed better generations for the future. As a class, we discussed how the system of slavery alienates people from both their kin and communities. A prime example of this from “Wild Seed” is how Anyanwu was separated from her family time after time again. Anyanwu was forced to abandon her family and her morals due to her need to escape Doro and his plans of using her and eventually killing her.

            In most cases, one immediately assumes that apocalyptic signifies the ending of the world in some dramatic and destructive way. However, Kaplan describes how, “the popular association of the apocalyptic with the destruction of the World neglects the fundamental function of revelation, which shows that the World needs to end because it is cast in error” (Kaplan, page 81). Kaplan works to get at the importance of change and growth in the world and in Doro specifically. “Wild Seed” pries at the idea of apocalypse from Anyanwu’s point of view. Anyanwu believes that by dying by suicide, she is able to end her world and life as she knows it to successfully escape Doro and his closed-minded, violent point of view. She no longer can take the pressures and effects that come with being Doro’s property and plaything. Anyanwu knows that only she can determine whether she dies by suicide or not, and I believe this to be quite comforting for Anyanwu because Doro cannot control this decision of hers like he has decided so may decisions for her in the past. Anyanwu explains to Doro on their last night together, “I learned to turn my head and ignore the things you did to people. But, Doro, I could not ignore everything” (Butler, page 294). After all of those years, Doro’s darkest moments stuck with Anyanwu, and she had finally had enough after birthing her last child. For the first time in the novel, the reader witnesses a weakness, or rather a strength, in Doro. While Anyanwu lays down to die in front of Doro, Doro pulls her into his arms and pleads for her life. Doro begs, “‘Sun Woman, please don’t leave me.’ His voice caught and broke. He wept. He choked out great sobs that shook his already shaking body almost beyond bearing. He wept as thought for all the past times when no tears would come, when there was no relief. He could not stop” (Butler, page 296). The thought of Anyanwu dying seems to be Doro’s breaking point, as he literally breaks down and implores for her to continue to live. Anyanwu seems to be the only one in the novel that keeps Doro in check, and I believe he knows this to be true and that he respects her for this. I suppose Anyanwu knows this information as well, which must be one of the few motives she has to continue to live.

My Definition of Apocalypse through Santana Kaplan, Butler, and Everett

After the first month of class I can confidently say I have learned a lot about the word “apocalypse.” From what started on the first day of class as our personal understanding of the term, to working through Andrew Santana Kaplan’s article “Notes Towards (Inhibiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Thought”, and then Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, and the first two books of Percival Everett’s American Desert I have been able to expand on my previous knowledge. No, an apocalypse is not necessarily, as Isaac described it, a “desaturated world” but a much deeper word that can be used in a number of contexts. Here, I will be trying to explore my own ideas while working through the class text thus far. 

Before taking this class I was guilty of the single lens “zombie apocalypse” definition of apocalypse. I thought that the term was only applicable to the show The Walking Dead or video games that my twin brother played in middle school. I was privileged enough to grow up in an area where using the word in any other context would have gone right over my head. Last spring, when I was signing up for classes I was looking for a 300 level class that sounded interesting and fit my practice schedule. This one fit, I was intrigued by the title, and found comfort in the Toni Morrison part of the class description. Honestly, this is my first upper level English class and I was terrified. I didn’t really know how the words “black” and “apocalyptic” related to fiction but I was willing to find out. 

Starting off with by far the most difficult piece I have read, the Santana Kaplan article. I was nervous for this paper because I was afraid that I still would not grasp the concepts even after a second read. Fortunately, I did understand more; going back to it post Wild Seed I was able to apply it to the book and work through Doro to understand some of the main points of “Notes Towards (Inhibiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Thought.” I think that the main idea of Santana Kaplan is that in order to end racism the current state of the world must be completely demolished. Racism is rooted in the structure of our society. In the Bible Paul calls for the messiah to come for the final judgment and destroy the world of sin. Similarly, for this ever present anti-blackness to end we need to forget everything we know and rewrite society. The only way this can happen is through a tragic event that will forcibly end our world. 

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler helped me to deepen my understanding of the word “apocalypse.” Shifting from the definition of the world from Santana Kaplan’s piece, Wild Seed is a good way to apply the framework previously presented. The story emphasizes that an end to injustice calls for an end of the world as we know it. By having Doro and Anyanwu live for so long, Butler is able to use their characters to show how the world has changed and why it needs to end. Doro adjusted to the new world in a sort of bad faith whereas Anyanwu adjusted using good faith practices. Doro consistently kills for both himself and pleasure. He manipulates others for personal gain. In the beginning of book one, he thinks that he tricks Anyanwu into following him into one of his own breeding communities. Doro has seen the world go through a lot and has shifted his body and morals to remain in power. In terms of “Notes Towards (Inhibiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Thought” Doro is a katechon: In order for Doro’s inhuman actions to end, he needs to die. A small-scale apocalypse within his breeding communities and other establishments. Anyanwu also changes who she is in order to fit into the cruel, ever changing world. She seems to do so as honestly as she can, demonstrating good faith. I think that she shows readers how to educate themselves in order to move forward even in a world similar to Doro’s. 

Moving on, Percival Everett’s American Desert again helped me apply the apocalyptic thinking presented by Santna Kaplan. Ted was living a pretty average American lifestyle before he attempted to die by suicide. He was an English professor with a wife and two kids. On his way to do so he was hit by a UPS truck and decapitated. Ted was miraculously given a second chance at life; he comes back to fix all of the damage of his past and challenge cult leaders. He had an affair with a student which ultimately led to his downfall. On the third day after his death at his funeral he sits up, gets out of his coffin and comes back to life. The whole scene is a satirical spin on the biblical story of Jesus’ death and resurrection .In the bible Jesus comes back to earth to save people from sin and it seems that Ted is going to try to do the same with Big Daddy’s cult. As seen in both the Barbie Becker scene and the Cynthia  part it is clear that Ted can see the truth in people. He can see the lies that Barbie told her husband and Cynthia’s past life pre Big Daddy. Returning to “apocalypse,” I think Ted represents the messianic apocalypse that Paul talks about. Ted has come back to save the world from sin and lies. In this case, as far as books one and two, I think that Big Daddy and other leaders act as the katechon. Big Daddy uses Christinaity to guilt people into his structured society where he controls and oppresses people through fear. 

Going forward, with the remainder of this class I want to try and learn more about apocalyptic thinking and how it can be applied to literature and the world around me. I have a better understanding of the term as far as class but I think I want to try and learn about it in a real life situation and see how my thought process has changed since the end of August. I am excited to keep reading and working in the class and see how it applies to “Notes Towards (Inhibiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Thought.”

How can apocalypse be interpreted from our texts?

            Many place associations to the word “apocalypse” with very vivid and stereotypical ideas. Some might envision fire, desolate places, zombies, etc. Within the novel Wild Seed, by Octavia E. Butler, the fictional world created explores the idea of an apocalypse of life that has not yet happened. While there are different interpretations of the term, there is more behind it than the ideas most commonly connotated from it. While it is difficult to determine what a true apocalypse would appear as or be defined as if such events were to occur in real life, it is easy to speculate what the true meaning of the word can really be when discussing it in literature, both fictional and non-fictional. Butler toys with the question of mental survival in the wake of the lonely life associated with immortality to show that an apocalypse doesn’t have to mean a loss of the physical world, it can occur within the mind of one who has lost sanity as well.

            There is common debate about the meaning and purpose behind the apocalypse, and why it would occur. There has not been much discussion about what the apocalypse would mean in the long run. Santana Kaplan purports that to ever truly correct the wrongs done in the world we live in today, then the world must end and restart anew. This would create a society where there would be no past of racism, violence, bigotry, and more, “The popular association of the apocalyptic with the destruction of the world neglects the fundamental function of revelation, which shows that the world needs to end because it is cast in error” (Kaplan 81). [SK1] In the eyes of some, this would be the only true way to correct the wrongs done in the history of our current world.

            An apocalypse can theoretically take place in many ways, and Octavia Butler furthers these ideas with her book Wild Seed. She toys with immortality and the idea of the destruction of a sane mind that can be attached to those circumstances. Her book also touches on the errors inferred from Kaplan’s article. There is a racist error all around the societies that have been generated from Butler’s writing. She shows how these errors can be drawn from racist roots or can be for other purposes and all-encompassing, but still errors, nonetheless. However, the correction of the wrongs does not come from a true and full apocalypse, but from a fear of a complete apocalypse of the mind, “If Isaac had not loved Doro, and if that love had not been returned strongly in Doro’s own way, Doro would have seemed totally inhuman” (Butler 203[SK2] ). Butler’s character struggles with keeping himself from ruining others because of loneliness. To him, apocalypse means complete loneliness and would result in a life of unfeeling madness and replacement of these lost feelings with a desire for unending power over others. So, as Kaplan would say, the people keeping this character from his own apocalypse are the katechontic forces who have dwindled so few to the point where an apocalypse is imminent.

            This prominent character, Doro, chooses to hold error over others to control them and have his way. This is because he simply has the capabilities and powers to maintain this status. These actions can be reflected as the “errors” that Kaplan mentions in their article. While most often slavery is seen as an issue of race, especially in North America, Doro collects slaves based on their ability, a factor in which race plays no part. Butler poses the idea that a katechon, or a character can keep Doro from losing all sanity (in this case the protagonist, Anyanwu), and within the circumstances in the novel, it would prevent further error or slavery and harm done to others of Doro’s careless desires. That is not to say that the harm done would be erased, though stopping Doro’s actions could lead to a sort of correction to the course of action he has been on since he discovered that he had abilities and learned how to control them.

            Anyanwu is a character that recognizes both sides, and ultimately chooses the prevention of a total apocalyptic situation. There is much internal struggle between personal desire and thoughts about the greater good. Ultimately, she chooses to stay so as not to cause further destruction not only to the rest of society but to Doro himself. Despite other opinions, Butler seems to believe that this is the preferable outcome, though if it is to the benefit of her character, Doro, or for the rest of the world is unknown. Some may not find this outcome so optimal, “That is, there is nothing to save of civil society that would not be parasitic on centuries of onticide: modernity’s essential murder of Black being” (Kaplan 82). Some believe that the only way to fix the past is to let the world end and begin anew. This thought would not hold up within Butler’s novel as the apocalypse within Doro’s mind would mean a furthering of slavery, suffering, and death for others.

            There are many words with popular associations, apocalypse being one of them. There are many interpretations in mass media as they have been represented in books, movies, video games, and social media among other sources. While it may have a more direct initial definition with a simple Google search, there is more to be derived from the term and deeper understandings to be gathered upon further reflection. Both authors mentioned have ideas about what an apocalypse would look like and ultimately end up meaning in a grander setting. One view sees it as the ultimate baptism, and the other sees it as an ultimate doom. Butler uses the character, Doro, in Wild Seed to convey the other side of the argument within the apocalyptical discussion that shows what could be cataclysmic, instead of renewing effects. To close I pose a question; can the end of a world really be a finite solution?

The Need to End All Worlds [for the sake of better beginnings]

The act of reconstruction is a constant performance. To go about rebuilding anything—city, country, mindset, world, language, or person—there must be the original pieces of what was destroyed or, at some levels, taken. Apocalyptic events (or people) can result in such losses, leading to forms of recovery that can take small eternities to complete. Seeing as an apocalypse marks the end of a world, and [re]construction the beginning or continuation of one once established, it is possible to infer that one cannot exist without the other. However, there may be times where an apocalyptic restoration is in order: to build a better product than what was created, and ultimately dismantled (in some cases, some that would have benefited from a dismantling or two), the remaining fragments must be razed to the ground, and a new foundation must be built. This isn’t to say that all things must be destroyed for the sake of their betterment or progression, but it is definitely an avenue that can be chosen. All things don’t always have to come to apocalyptic ends, but they still carry the capacity to do so. As presented to readers in Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, and accompanied by Andrew Santana Kaplan’s essay “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” the endings of worlds have heavy consequences, with very little thought into the reconstruction of them if these endings are sudden or these worlds are deeply rooted in the mentality of a forceful majority. And, often, apocalyptic restoration is chosen out of desperation in the aftermaths of these events. But how else can one build a more suitable, stable, [human] home if the old one isn’t burned twice? 

To first focus on the word apocalypse: the end of an established world. Because popular representations of apocalyptic scenarios are often seen to be drastically affecting an entire country or planet, people tend to engage with the word in disbelief, assuming it to be more of an impossibility than a probable event. But a world of any kind will always have the possibility of getting destroyed. Even in the case of Anyanwu, Butler’s main protagonist in Wild Seed, as God-like and immortal as she is, her worlds still had the capacity to end. While the tragedies that led to the loss of her spheres were on a relatively personal scale, it is important to understand that most devistations are felt the most at individual levels. Doro—Anyanwu’s counter throughout the story, and another God-like being she shares the burden of immortality with—and his actions are the central cause to a lot of the pain she experiences, as he continuously breeds powerful beings into existence (with and without her) and kills others to sustain his life. This cycle of creation and taking life is essential to understanding his apocalyptic nature of being. Doro takes individual worlds and creates new ones consistently, doing so to ensure his doesn’t meet a devastating conclusion. However, as he extends this nature in his interactions with Anyanwu, both giving her new worlds to take care of and taking those she cared for already, Doro is faced with the consequence of possibly losing her at the end of the novel, when Anyanwu threatens to take her life in response to the high amount of suffering he forced her to endure for centuries. The taking of her life would have been an act of apocalyptic restoration, in that she was choosing to eliminate one world in the hopes that a new one be built in the wake of her loss and Doro’s guilt for all the pain he has caused. Now, while ending her life would have resulted in the loss of two worlds, hers and Doro’s—as he was heavily dependent on her by the end of the novel: “Sun Woman, please don’t leave me,” (Butler 296) he cried as he realized what a great loss she would be to him—her choice to keep living resulted in circumstantial changes for the both of them, with each of them coming to a compromise about their relationship to one another. This came after the possibility of an apocalypse preceded by several others: a reconstruction caused by too many instances of ruin.

Next: to speak again on behalf of the allowance of being. Kaplan’s essay explores, mostly philosophically, what it means to be in an anti-Black society. He writes that, “In order to this preserve its metaphysical void, the modern World ‘systematically murders [black] relationality…antiblackness is the systematic and global death of this primordial relation [to the Being],’” (Kaplan 74). In other words, to be born Black into an anti-Black society is to be born but perceived as a ‘non-being’ for the sake of segregation and separatism. One of Kaplan’s main arguments is that this mentality, as well as the questions brought about it, are rooted in anti-Black language that was ultimately used to create multi-institutional racist systems. While there has been a lot of recent work around dismantling the foundation of the systems, Kaplan suggests that concepts such as Black faith and Afro-pessimism can offer a way to fully eliminate this ‘original’ language and re-establish new terms on which these systems should be built on. A kind of apocalyptic restoration to assist in, or help begin, the construction of a fully anti-Black world and society. In doing so, there would be an increase in huminization towards marginalized communities and their beliefs. However, doing so would also mean the end of a familiar world to many, even one rooted in anti-Black paradigms. But, this necessary torching of the familiar will benefit all those who have been left to wonder if they are allowed to partake in being

In examining the many apocalypses in Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, and the proposal of a particular one by Andrew Santana Kaplan, it can be said that change is near impossible without worlds coming to an end. Layli Long Soldier wrote in her poem Obligations 2 of moving through time with compassion, “to understand, to find, to unbraid, to accept, to question / the grief, the grief,  the grief, the grief.” The form and structure of the poem makes it very unlikely that a reader can get through any reading of it without being forced to move through the grief.* Every apocalypse will result in a grieving of sorts, but restoration comes in growing through that, and understanding that grief is a side effect of the world ending.

*This realization was made after several readings of the poem in class and was brought to our attention by Dr. Beth McCoy as a way to get us thinkING about how to move through a lot of the books we will be reading throughout the semester.

How to Start an Apocalypse For Dummies

Prior to registering for “Black Apocalyptic Fiction”, my association with an apocalypse began and ended with a sepia dust field screen, zombies, and a core group of characters with spirited personalities who overcame the end of the world through television shows like The Walking Dead and The 100. I was initially intrigued to see what broader implications a walking dead-esq novel would have on the world around us, but as we began to explore the course texts, I recognized that “apocalypse” had a fluid definition which required me to shift my perspective on what an apocalypse really entailed. 

I can attribute most of my success in recognizing a new perspective to Andrew Santana Kaplan’s “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought.” In this article, Kaplan aimed to deconstruct the pop-culture definition of apocalypse, instead defining it as a “World that needs to end because it is cast in error” or primarily to “un-cover.” Using the definition of apocalypse provided by Kaplan, within Wild Seed, we see two personal apocalypses from Anyanwu and Doro as their world either metaphorically or literally ended. As we explore these personal apocalypses, I was left thinkING about whether it is a powerful individual’s apocalypse or a compounding of individual’s apocalypses that creates a greater impact on the world around us through an exploration of Wild Seed

Despite being alive for nearly 300 years, Anyanwu’s journey to “uncover” began only after she was approached by Doro. While she was used to experiencing life on her own, being worshiped by the humans around her, and was the most powerful being to her knowledge. Now, after going along with, she had to report to Doro: “Completely out of character, she looked terrified…He felt her shudder. That power will not harm you either. I have accepted you as my wife. You have only to obey me.’’ (Butler 42). This interaction is a complete reversal of what she was accustomed to. Anyanwu was typically the one terrifying those around her, and she was always the wisest in any given space. As the pair traveled together, Anyanwu wanted to distance herself from his reign, ultimately wanting to be freed from his control and she found this escape in transforming into a dolphin. Following the death of Isaac, her husband and father to her children, she needed an escape: “She was a dolphin. If Doro had not found her an adequate mate, he would find her an adequate adversary…And she would never be his prey.” (Butler 211). When Anyanwu transformed into an animal she was free from Doro. She literally ceased existing as a human that Doro could take control of, and in that sense, it was an uncovering of who she truly was. Her world had ended as she formerly knew it, sparking a metaphorical apocalypse.

Although a personal apocalypse can revolve around one’s own death, an apocalypse can also be spurred through the world or life ending for someone closest to them, and in this case, Anyanwu spurred the personal apocalypse of Doro. Following the death of Louisa, her children and Isaac, Anyanwu was grieving, and she truly believed Doro would not change. After over a hundred years, she was resigned to the fact that she could not escape Doro: “In spite of all his talk he was betraying her. In spite of all the joy they had just given each other, he could not forgo the kill…So be it; she was tired.” (275). Anyanwu no longer wanted to progress in the world and was resigned to die by suicide, and yet this realization seemed to have the biggest impact on Doro. As Anyanwu prepared to shut down her body from the inside, Doro began his final plea to spare her life. He says, “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to be able to lie down beside you and die when you die…Sun Woman, please don’t leave me.” (296). This is the first time within the novel that Doro admits to wanting to end his life. He was so attached to Anyanwu because he found a genuine life partner in her. Of course, Doro could not literally die seeing as how he shifted from body to body, even involuntarily, admitting that he wanted to die was the closest he could get to dying, or effectively ending his world. Only after effectively ending his world, through acknowledging that he wanted to die, did Anyanwu opt to stay alive and change the world for better: “There would be no more Susans…He did not command her any longer…there would be no more threats to her children.” (297). Ultimately, it is through Anwanyu’s perceived death by Doro that his world was able to metaphorically end, finally exacting the change she wanted to see to make the world a better place. 

After exploring the personal apocalypses of Doro and Anyanwu, we can see that the causes of their apocalypses are created for different reasons. While Anwanyu’s word ended due to the compounded deaths of those closest to her, Doro’s ended because he believed the person he was closest to in his life would die. This got me thinkING about a very important question: Is it the power of the individual that can create an apocalypse, or is it simply many individuals that can create an apocalypse? We can take a look at a few modern examples of instances where the individual versus many individuals spurred an apocalypse. One prominent example that comes to mind is the Me-Too movement wherein a once esteemed Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein was disgraced after over 80 sexual harassment claims were made against him. He is disgraced from Hollywood and is now serving twenty-three years in prison. His behavior was uncovered, and due to his high status in our society, his downfall meant that no one else in his position could be a protected abuser. The world ending of someone powerful marked an apocalypse wherein it is expected that people can vocalize their sexual abuse and be heard. On the other hand, when we take a look at the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020 can be related to a number of unjust killings of black people including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Prior to their murders, they were not known to the world, and yet following their deaths, they spurred a number of global protests not only seeking justice for them, but for all racism in all facets. 

Ultimately, I can make a case for that, like for Doro when an important person’s world ends it can start an apocalypse. Likewise, we can also see that for people like Anyanwu, her apocalypse began after a number of deaths for those closest to her. As we progress throughout the semester, I am still trying to figure out what it truly takes to start an apocalypse, even at smaller scales to create change for the better.

Apocalypse Through the Lens of Butler and Kaplan

When scrolling through English classes to take at the time of picking classes, Black Apocalyptic Fiction caught my eye. Maybe I was fascinated with the term apocalypse, or maybe I was fascinated seeing Octavia Butler’s name on the syllabus reading list, as her writing has spoken to me since I have read Parable of the Sower. I think the term ‘apocalypse’ stood out to me the most while analyzing different English classes to take. My wandering mind immediately thought of the stereotypical associations with apocalypse; such as zombies, saturated land, a dystopian world on fire, and the complete destruction of the land. Until I read the first novel on our reading list, Wild Seed by the same author I admired most before coming into this course. While observing the novel in its entirety and thoroughly examining all of the pieces and parts that make up the novel in the entirety, I kept questioning myself on “why is this novel apocalyptic?” This question stood out to me the whole time while reading, and was wondering this up until the end. After examining my experiences while reading Wild Seed, I was able to build a list of why I think this novel was apocalyptic, and my essay will analyze my experiences while reading Wild Seed and unpacking my thoughts about why I think this novel is truly apocalyptic in the end. 

Wild Seed in depth was very hard to unpack, as a reader trying to understand where the apocalypse is coming from. I mean, I am still working through my thoughts on this one. One ultimate reason I believe this novel is apocalyptic is because we see both of our main characters, Doro and Anyanwu, have endings of their world. I believe Anyanwu’s world ended when Doro came into her world, making her life a living hell; having to be controlled to act and be a certain way, being forced to be under manipulation and intimidation to just survive the world Doro has created. It all starts when she essentially meets Doro, “You belong with me, with the people I’m gathering. We are people you can be part of– people you need not frighten or bribe into letting you live” (Butler 23). This act of manipulation, knowing deep down he had to do the event of killing her, is itself an apocalypse created in the world of Anyanwu- facing her with the challenge of leaving her world and the people she essentially raised on the land. The event of Doro killing Susan was a point where Anyanwu knew she had to end her world by suidice (a topic talked about later in this paper), because she realizes this will eventually be her world for the rest of her life,“He had settlements everywhere, families everywhere. She had only one, and he was taking it… She could live on and on and have nothing. He would see to it” (Butler 241). Anyanwu realizing there was no other option was heartbreaking as a reader, realizing she was giving up on the humanity she once loved. She had also lost a sense of peace when Susan died, and even a grip on reality, thinking this tight grip on her will never end. To contrast, Doro’s world ends, to me, in an interesting evaluation. Anyanwu IS Doro’s world during the entirety of the novel; he is in control of her every movement, every child she has, every interaction she makes. When Anyanwu decides she needs to die by suicide, this itself was the ending of Doro’s world, to the point where we actually see a side of humanity from him, that was completely nonexistent throughout the rest of the novel. The ending of Anyanwu’s world is practically going to be the end of Doro’s world, and I found that troubling to unpack at first. One world ending possibly leads to the ending of another world? That is something that was troubling to unpack in my brain, until Santana Kaplan unpacked this for me in the article published, “fundamental function of revelation, which shows that the World needs to end because it is cast in error”(81). How I interpreted this was just basically meaning one’s world needs to end to see the change in another’s world- Anyanwu needed her world to end to see the change in the bigger aspect of the world. This fact to me was a connection I wasn’t able to connect until going back to reread Santana Kaplan’s article, as this idea was still stuck in my mind, unable to be revealed. Through the realization that Doro and Anyanwu had endings to their worlds, does in fact make this an apocalyptic novel, as described by Santana Kaplan as well. 

Doro’s actions created a scene of different apocalypses for certain characters in the novel. As mentioned before, Doro was in complete control. Not only looking at Anyanwu here, but everyone involved in Doro’s world. Issac, one of the characters I so dearly held out hope of life for, knew Doro and his abilities. He knew he had to be under complete control of Doro, and obey all of his rules, or there would be an ending to his world. Issac had his own apocalypse throughout the novel, trying to create peace between Doro and Anywanwu before his final breath. This to me was a thought of an apocalypse I had never thought of; Issac using all his might and power to reunite people together that is so broken and toxic. Trying to struggle your entire life to be “good enough” for Doro was a constant end people had to meet. They would go to extreme measures to protect their “leader,” including having to marry Anyanwu and breed with her, even if deep down you believe it will only hurt you in the end, which Isaac later realizes is the end of his life. Anyanwu constantly has to change who she is; through her name, her culture, her clothing, and even her name, Sunwomen. Through the chaos of her world and constantly having to change is creating inner apocalypses, as some may know it’s not easy constantly changing to meet the needs of a higher up power. But does this really create a sense of apocalypse? If what I have been explaining has been defined as the apocalypse, we would be able to make another connection to bigger world concepts like poverty, racism, and even your average middle school classrooms, where we constantly see people trying to change themselves to be a better version of themselves for a higher up power. This creates a sense of inner apocalypse, trying to change the chaos in your own world in response to the chaos of another. 

Through the use of apocalypse on smaller scales, and even the bigger scale throughout the novel, I gained a better understanding of apocalypse through the lens of Butler and Kaplan. Although the ideas were pretty scarce and dense in the beginning where I felt pretty confused on the definition of apocalypse through this novel, I was able to get a better understanding of the term apocalypse through a different lens, and not the stereotypical views of zombies, burning buildings, and a dry and gray land. I appreciated this novel as a different perspective of the apocalypse for me to understand and grapple with the many apocalypse I viewed and took into consideration. Butler giving me this lens helped me improve and make connections to the article published by Santana Kaplan, which was so hard to read at first, but so easy to make connections to.

Moving Beyond a Binary View of the Apocalypse

A month ago, if you asked me to define the word “apocalypse,” I probably would have said “the end of the world.” While this isn’t necessarily wrong, my understandings of how the world could end were certainly limited to media depictions of it. My very first thought may have been of The Walking Dead, which I was an avid viewer of for several years, and I would have mentally pictured Rick Grimes walking out of that abandoned hospital, seeing that discarded teddy bear on the ground and seeing the very first zombie, or what’s more canonically accepted as a “walker.” Now, if I hadn’t thought of The Walking Dead and the context led me more towards thinking of a destruction of the Earth, maybe I would have thought of The 100, in which nuclear bombs being set off across the planet prompt a society of people escape to and survive in space long enough for radiation levels to drop enough for the Earth to be survivable again. I followed this show for years as well and both certainly shaped my perception of an apocalypse as one of the greatest worst-case scenarios there could be. (I mean, the whole “the world is ending!!!” concept seems reasonably frightening.)

However, as we begin to familiarize ourselves with core course terminology and concepts, my understanding of the apocalypse is changing. Of course, there’s still this connection to the end of life as we know it but I’m wondering now if the connotations of the apocalypse were always as negative as I have previously perceived them to be.

There’s an important link between the apocalyptic shows I mentioned before that I think has prevented me from seeing an apocalypse as anything but “bad.” In The Walking Dead, we are introduced to numerous survivor communities, ranging in scale and power, as Rick and his crew travel across the country when disaster strikes their own community. Similarly, in The 100, the first season tells about “the 100,” a group consisting mostly of delinquents who were banished to the Earth in order to preserve oxygen on the ship and test radiation levels, and the “grounders,” who survived the initial nuclear fallout and rebuilt their lives on Earth. So, we have different communities or even societies developing in each show, which allows people to share their skills and knowledge with each other to heighten their chances of survival. However, many of these groups tend to be anti-social and isolationist, which leads to intense violence between them, entire groups being wiped out when others become paranoid or power-hungry. As Arkady Martine points out in their article What Really Happens After the Apocalypse, “Most of apocalyptic literature focuses on all the terrible ways that society goes wrong after a society-disrupting disaster” and how “while the zombies might be the initial threat, most of the horrible violence is done by surviving humans to one another.” This was one of the reasons why I stopped following The Walking Dead, as the particularly gruesome killing of a favored character by other survivors had me sick to my stomach for hours.

It was these characteristics of the apocalyptic media I have consumed that made me believe that an apocalypse was one of the worst things that could happen to society. But, as we read the Andrew Santana Kaplan essay “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” I began to consider that maybe an apocalypse could benefit society or, as Santana Kaplan seems to argue, it may even be necessary. If I am interpreting this essay—which I admit is far beyond my own scholarly abilities—as intended, the foundations of civil society are cast in error as it was built through the enslavement of millions of people of color. So, even as society has adjusted with the goal of equality and inclusion, these changes are just that: adjustments. If we were to imagine the nation as a house, we could say that the structures it was built on are extremely flawed but instead of tearing them down and beginning again, we instead continue adding additions to the house with hopes of making it better. Santana Kaplan argues that the house needs to be torn down completely through an apocalypse since “true justice demands the end of the World.” Again, this is just my interpretation of the article and I am not claiming this is exactly what Santana Kaplan is arguing in their literary work but rather that this is what I understand from it. My interpretation absolutely could be in need of re-examination and changing.

Now, considering this argument, surely an apocalypse could be a “good” thing for society. But there’s one more piece I haven’t mentioned yet that could change this perception as well. Quoting from Giorgio Agamben’s The Signature of All Things: On Method, Santana Kaplan introduces that “The paradigm is not merely a particular phenomenon, nor is it a universal, but is rather a ‘singular case that is isolated from its context only insofar as, by exhibiting its own singularity, it makes intelligible a new ensemble.’” This suggests that an apocalypse isn’t necessarily society-wide but can be personal, individual. After all, apocalypse “primarily means to un-cover” as Santana Kaplan also notes. This means that an apocalypse means a revelation of something that can happen on an individual or collective level. On a collective level, Santana Kaplan suggests that it could lead to “true justice” but on an individual level, it could mean many different things since each person would experience it differently.

To explore whether an apocalypse could be “good” or “bad” on an individual level, I will now turn to course texts since, so far, we have seen several instances of characters experiencing personal catastrophes.

In Wild Seed, numerous characters experience apocalypses, especially those who go through transitions in their adolescence, which is a span of time in which those believed to have special powers begin to truly develop them, often through seeing and feeling the lives of others. I’ll focus on the main characters, Doro and Anyanwu, though. As disclosed in Book Two, Doro went through transition at age thirteen which revealed to him “that he was both more and less than a man” and he “discovered that he could have and do absolutely anything.” As Doro can preserve his consciousness while jumping to other bodies, he has the power of immortality, allowing him to accumulate resources and power over time as he develops the goal to create others like him. While this power could be desirable by some and considered a great revelation, Octavia Butler also expresses in Book Two that Doro feels “utterly alone, forever alone, longing to die and be finished.” So, even though some part of Doro seems to be satisfied in the divine worship he receives from his followers who are mostly people with powers like him, he’s also extremely lonely since they all live mortal lives and die. 

Anyanwu is one of these followers of Doro, but not by choice. Doro first seeks her out when he senses her abilities while looking for missing members of his own family. When he does find her, Doro threatens her children and grandchildren in order to pressure her into moving to colonial America with him with the goal of creating children with powers as great as hers, perhaps even long-lived or immortal children. This is expressed in Book Three as Butler writes “He made it sound as though her choice had been free, as though he had not coerced her into choosing.” Aside from not giving her a choice, in Book Two, it is also relayed that Anyanwu “remembered her sudden panic when Doro took her from her people,” which was an apocalyptic event from her since the world, as she knew it, ended and she was forced to learn the language, values, and practices of a new one. 

In American Desert, the main character, Theodore Street, also experiences an apocalypse after his head is severed in a car accident and is stitched back on so that his body can be presented at his open-casket funeral, where he proceeds to wake up and exit his coffin. Within the readings so far, this is where we see the most influence of media depictions of apocalypses as Percival Everett writes that “Ted’s resurrection caused a stir, a terrible riot which spread from the church and into the streets, resulting later in the arrest of seven gang members who saw the shocked, enlightened mass as prime targets for robbery and their general entertainment.” Despite the reactions of the public, it is also noted in the novel that on a personal level, “Having survived death hadn’t erased his painful assessment of himself as a person” and that he even became “impressed by his capacity to feel such overwhelming and disparate things, his intense love of his family, his need for knowledge of their safety and his dread of the dangers which awaited them beyond the walls of their house.” Based on these lines, amongst others, it seems like Ted’s resurrection has brought him more knowledge, both of the disparities in society and also of the kind of man he wants to be and how he wants to treat his family. Now that I’ve explored my prior understandings of the apocalypse, Santana Kaplan’s argument, and personal apocalypses from the texts we’ve read so far, I feel more ready to make my hypothesis. An apocalypse to me, right now, doesn’t seem “good” or “bad,” one or the other, but rather a both/and. There can be good and bad. Greatly, this is possible because of the ability of an apocalypse to be personal since, at its root, it is a revelation. It doesn’t have to be on grand-scale to the entirety of society, the whole world. It can be on grand-scale for one person, the entire world as they know it. I look forward to seeing how future literary texts will interact with this hypothesis and how they may, to me, support it or prove it false.