ENGL 327 Black Apocalyptic Fiction
One of the biggest struggles in the book was the idea of the apocalypse as a whole. What is an apocalypse and how does it relate to this novel? Within the first week of class, we discussed the idea that an apocalypse is not always the stereotypical end-of-the-world, fires blazing, zombies running rampant, dark and dingy atmosphere that most people assume, but, rather, it could be the end of one’s own personal idea of life. The most interesting idea in Wild Seed, to me, was how it was related to an apocalyptic novel and what exactly the apocalypse was. Wild Seed, though many would not think so at first glance, is an apocalyptic novel. After seeing this idea put into practice by Butler, it makes it easier for us as an audience to challenge our thoughts about what apocalyptic fiction really is. Heading into the rest of the course, I hope to be able to better grasp what constitutes an apocalyptic novel and continue challenging the basic idea of what this fiction entails. It will also be intriguing to see the diversity of apocalypses in the views of so many different authors throughout the course.
Though people generally consider an apocalypse to be the end of the entire world, Kaplan explains, “Afro-pessimism’s apocalyptic thought is not reducible to its demand for the end of the World” (81). It is almost as though the apocalypse is a spectrum, ranging from something as small as an individual’s world to as large as, maybe even, the universe. Kaplan also writes, “Though the apocalyptic is commonly associated with the end of the World, etymologically, it primarily means to un-cover, which is precisely how Paul uses it. For Paul, apo-kalupsis names the un-veiling of the messianic event and the passing figure of this World” (81). How, then, does this relate to Butler’s world. Though Paul’s ideas are more rooted in the idea of the Messiah and, in that sense, religion, there is a large event in Butler’s work that constitutes as the “un-veiling” of a large, inescapable event: The realization that Anyanwu will never be able to completely get rid of Doro. This occurs in the third book of the novel following Anyanwu’s initial escape from Doro and her formation of her own town. As soon as he finds her and her new home, she has an inkling that things will begin to go arry, as they always have in Doro’s other civilizations. Anyanwu even thinks, “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). If the sexual assault of daughter and the death of her son were not enough to show her how blatantly awful Doro’s reign over her town was, his senseless killing of Susan, one of her closest friends, was enough to lead her to suicide. Doro’s intervention into her town, which had done remarkably better than any of his had in the centuries he had been cultivating them and stealing people to repopulate, would be the end of her world as she knew it– her own personal apocalypse. Her only reprievement from Doro’s grasp was the sweet release of death. This realization was a great unveiling to Anyanwu. She knew, in that moment when he killed Susan, that she would never know peace, for they were the only two immortal beings in the world. She would have to deal with Doro and his horrible ways of life for the rest of her time on Earth. To relate this to Kaplan and Paul’s arguments, it almost seems as though Doro is the Messiah (though not in a good way) coming to stake claims on Anyanwu’s city and threatening the end to the city (and Anyanwu’s world) as they know it. This interpretation of an apocalypse is one that is more on a personal scale, unlike the general idea of an apocalypse. The entire world is not ending, but, rather, Anyanwu’s personal life. Really, though, Anyanwu’s apocalypse could, arguably, have started the moment she met Doro. Though she did not understand exactly what she was getting into when she met him, it was clear, even then, that there was no escaping Doro anymore. Anyanwu had lived for hundreds of years being undetected by Doro, but now that he had her scent, she was his, whether she liked it or not. Any feeling of choice or decision was merely a facade to convince Anyanwu to come with him willingly. Doro says, “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). Doro appealed to Anyawu’s desire to live a peaceful life, but later to her desire to have children she did not need to bury. Doro’s discovery of Anyanwu was the end of her life as she knew it– the beginning of her own personal apocalypse. She had gone from constantly watching her back, killing only for protection, and only really needing to watch out for herself and her kinsmen to being enslaved by an immortal being with no idea what it meant to be human anymore. There was no escape for her once the apocalypse began with even her greatest escape being short-lived compared to her lengthy time on Earth. The question Kaplan ends his essay with stands in the eyes of Anyanwu, “do I die with Blackness, or do I remain invested in the katechontic- power- of- the- anti- Black- World?” (85). Essentially, does Anyanwu die with her honor, at her own will or does she fall victim to Doro’s eventual wrath and destruction of the world as a whole. Not only that, but a katechon has been believed to hold back the dealings of the antiChrist in religious texts. When the katechon is removed, the antiChrist is able to fully manifest. It seems as though in Butler’s story, Anyanwu would be the katechon and Doro would be the antichrist. Isaac, Doro’s son, had told Anwayu before he died that she needed to “live so that [she] could save the human part of [Doro]” (Butler 295). Anyanwu explains to Doro, “But [Isaac] was wrong. I cannot save it. It is already dead” (Butler 295). Isaac believed the only thing keeping alive what little humanity Doro had left was Anyanwu, but Anyanwu explains that she is too late. Doro argues, though, that she is the only reason he still feels any human emotion and promises to be better as long as she does not end her life and leave him alone. In a way, Anyanwu is Doro’s world, and her death would be an apocalypse of his own. Had Anyanwu gone through with her plan to commit suicide, thus removing the katechon from the equation, Doro could have become much worse than before and completely destroyed the rest of humanity and the world as it was, disrupting the normal ways of life more than he already had. In many ways, Butler’s novel relates directly to Kaplan’s explanation of the Black messianic beliefs in Afro-Pessimism’s apocalyptic thought.
Thinking about these ideas in the context of Wild Seed will help me, as well as the rest of my peers, understand how this thought can be applied to literature and how we can deduce these findings in our other works. Most notably, for me, I want to see how each author, again, reveals their own ideas about apocalypses and where each one falls on the spectrum.