The Apocalypse Through a New Lens

Kathleen McCarey

Beth McCoy

September 26, 2022

Essay 1

When first registering for a class called Black Apocalyptic Fiction, I was met with some hesitation. I am an anxious person, and I feared that possibly the subjects of the novels that were required in such a class would be too intense for me to handle. Having grown up in an era where my peers were obsessed with The Walking Dead or movies like Zombieland, the word “apocalyptic” always brings forth to mind images of half-dead creatures, bloody bodies, and eerie settings that work to make the audience uneasy. Of course, in my mind, anything apocalyptic had to fall into the category of horror. Despite my worry that this class was not for me, I pushed aside my hesitation and registered anyway. The course readings thus far, to my delight, are not ones that I would categorize as being in the horror genre. While American Desert does revolve around a character who is neither alive or dead, it is enough for my faint heart to handle. The works that I have completed in the class, Andrew Santana Kaplan’s “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought” as well as Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, have caused me to question my own understanding of what apocalyptic fiction truly is. The Santana Kaplan article and Butler’s Wild Seed have caused me to rethink and evaluate how I view and interpret apocalyptic fiction and what can be categorized as such.

Andrew Santana Kaplan’s work, “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought”, provided me with a new level of understanding of the word “apocalypse” and its relation to Afro-Pessimism, an idea I was not at first familiar with. I found this article difficult to work through and I frequently had to reread and lookup words. I struggled through this article, read it again, and struggled a bit more. Luckily, class discussion the following day provided some relief when I heard my peers shared the same experience. The Santana Kaplan article left me trying to figure out numerous elements of the idea of the apocalypse. Before enrolling in Black Apocalyptic Fiction, my understanding of the word apocalypse was merely the end of the world. Santana Kaplan notes that despite how the word apocalypse is used interchangeably with the destruction of the world, the word itself means to “uncover” and how for the apostle, Paul, “apo-kalupsis names the unveiling of the messianic event and the passing figure of this world” (81). Santana Kaplan goes on to explain how the crucial element of the apocalypse is the revelation, “which shows that the world needs to end because it is cast in error” (81). While I worked through this article, I came to understand that the Afro-Pessimistic approach to the apocalypse revolved around the idea that in order for the effects of chattel slavery to be rectified, the world would need to end. The article also presented the idea of the “katechon”, or how Dr. McCoy explained it in class, the restraining force on the antichrist. This was yet another layer that developed my understanding of what exactly a class on Black Apocalyptic Fiction would entail and what relation the apocalypse had on the texts that would be discussed in class. The Andrew Santana Kaplan article granted me with starting blocks that I could use while growing my understanding of what exactly apocalyptic fiction looks like and its relation to the Black experience.

The article, “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought”, was especially helpful in examining Octavia Butler’s novel, Wild Seed, through the lens of Black Apocalyptic Fiction and its relation to the apocalypse as a whole. The setting of Wild Seed, which is not a barren wasteland or zombie infested city, does not resemble my original understanding of an apocalyptic world. I was left to figure out how Anyanwu’s seventeenth-century village in Africa, and later nineteenth century America, could be seen as an apocalyptic world. However, my understanding of the apocalypse was flawed. A world that needed ending did not have to be the physical world, it could be an individual’s personal world, their life. I was constantly rethinking how I understood the apocalypse through my reading of Wild Seed. The character of Doro, a being able to inhabit bodies, as well as Anywanu, another character possessing powers who is not exactly human, provided me with a way to work through how an apocalypse could be individual. Doro’s creation story in itself is apocalyptic, having died and then being resurrected. Butler sets the scene by writing how “he was thirteen when the full agony of transition hit him” and how “his body had died, and for the first time, he had transferred to the living human body nearest him” (189). This human body was his mother’s. Doro ultimately killed every living person in his village, destroying the world he had grown up in. His body had died, his people had died, and the world in which he was so familiar with was now destroyed. To rectify the emotional damage he caused, Doro led the rest of his life building an army, a family, of people to surround himself with and to create his own world. However, Doro created this new world through the death and misery of others. Anywanu, unhappy with the killing of innocent people, acts as the driving force against Doro’s mission. When reading Wild Seed with the ideas presented in the Santana Kaplan article, Anyanwu would act as the katechon. Anywanu, however, faces her own apocalypse when her world ends as well. In the final scene of the novel, after Anywanu has finally agreed to spend her eternity with Doro, relinquishes the final piece of her identity before Doro: her name. Butler writes how “she became Emma Anyanwu. ‘It will give people something to call me that they can pronounce’” (298). In this moment, Anywanwu finally opens up to the possibility of a new life by allowing herself to connect with others, not shielding herself from the companionship of new individuals. Anyanwu strips away her protective walls and comes to be known by a European name as a way to set up roots in America and restart her life. If I read Wild Seed without reading the Santana Kaplan article prior, I would not have been able to explain how Wild Seed could fit into the genre of apocalyptic fiction. 

After reading “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought” and Wild Seed, I am left trying to figure out how the other novels in this class will shape my understanding of what apocalyptic literature can look like. These texts have already equipped me with key terms and ideas that I will be able to transfer to my critical reading of the novels that follow. At this point in the class, I am curious to see if the rest of the fiction that I read in Black Apocalyptic Fiction will depict apocalyptic moments seen in Wild Seed or if I will be reunited with my original images of how I understood the apocalypse to look like. Regardless, I know that my definition of what I see as apocalyptic fiction will continue to mold and grow, leaving me with a drastically different interpretation than the one that I entered the class with.

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