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?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.