Perceived Humanity & The Apocalypse

Kendall Cruise

Beth McCoy

September 26, 2022

Essay One

            When I signed up for Black Apocalyptic Fiction this semester, I definitely had expectations as to what the content of the literature would look like. Much of this I had received from other kinds of apocalyptic media that I had consumed such as The Last of Us or The Walking Dead. Which were largely stories about the destruction of greater society and law, desolate and collapsed towns/cities, survival of the fittest mentalities, graying color schemes, and of course zombies. Though some of what we have read explores some of these ideas the approach and mentality taken as to the “true” meaning of the genre has been taken in a totally different direction than I had initially anticipated. In this course so far, there has been a major focus on the definition of apocalypse and using that to expand our connotations of the genre and its larger and versatile definition. Google says that the word apocalypse comes from Old English and its etymology leads it to mean most literally to uncover or reveal. I find this definition and approach to the word to be one I find endlessly enthralling. The ways in which I think this applies in all depictions of apocalypse that I have come across from the aforementioned titles to Andrew Santana Kaplan’s essay “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought” and Octavia Butler’s novel Wild Seed is in this genres disposition in uncovering the nature of humanity.

            In Santana Kaplan’s essay on the apocalypse and afro-pessimism there is strong punctuation on societies perception of people of color, especially black people, and how it pertains to ontology, or the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being, and how because of the subjugation and enslavement of black people the society is forever tainted with the idea that black people are not quite being. Andrew Santana Kaplan observes that,

The fundamental ontological problems that the “free” Black presents leads Warren to make a decisive distinction: between emancipation and freedom. The conflation of this juridical term with this ontological term is mistaken insofar as the Black’s emancipation from slavery in no way yields access to Human freedom. This is why the Worldly privileging of citizenship, rights, and inclusion fundamentally reinforces our constitutive forgetfulness of the question of Black being (Kaplan 73).

This argument that because the history of enslavement for black people they will always exist outside of being due to the ingrained mentalities of the societies from racial-chattel-slavery, which Kaplan sees as the singular cataclysmic event of modernity leaves black people as something just outside of being in the functions of society. Santana Kaplan points out that because of stripping away of human freedom that people of color have experience they fall more into the category of meontology stating, “. Simon Critchley’s The Faith of the Faithless (2012) includes a section on Paul’s singular notion of hos me [‘as not’], which Critchley describes as ‘a meontology, an account of things that are not’” (Kaplan 74).  I find this focus and distinction of Black being to be an idea that interacts very interestingly and congruously with the apocalyptic genre and especially the exploration of things that are not quite being and or human in the way we would traditionally think of those concepts. The way I see it Kaplan seems to be observing that we are in an apocalyptic world because not all that inhabit it are seen as human and this mentality has caused the need for the true end of the world because the end of the world for people of color has already happened due to the gratuitous nature of racial-chattel-slavery.

            These cause-and-effect relationship between observed non-being and the end of the world, even a personal one, is one that seems to be explored with frequency in the apocalyptic genre. While in stereotypical apocalyptic media this may be depicted through the likable, honorable (probably male) protagonist performing some horrendously violent or selfish action for the sake of their survival causing the audience to question the humanity of the protagonist, Butler utilizes this relationship in a different way. In Wild Seed Doro and Anyanwu are something that is human-adjacent. While they both hold human appearances, they both are immortal and possess supernatural abilities. This throws a bit of a wrench in the reader’s categorization of them both and places them in a field more accurately covered by meontology. Though, their perceived humanity has seemed to make a difference in the humanity that they display in their life. While Doro is by many viewed of as a god or a spirit, Anyanwu is viewed as a healer, a mother, and witch. While all of societies perceptions of Anyanwu might not all be positive she is generally seen as more “human” by traditional standards because of her inherently empathetic nature that is enhanced by her ability to heal. In contrast, Doro state requires him to have to move himself from body to body with some amount of frequency in order to sustain his immortal life. This has caused him to have a strange relationship with humanity as a whole because in some ways they are required to be a tool for him to continue on with his life and make the best of the bodies available to him. Doro can be a cold and unforgiving killer when he wants to be and doesn’t always change shape out of necessity but will often do it to make an example of something. This has resulted in others to view him as less human than Anyanwu because they see him as having less humanity and therefore being less human. This ties to the end of their individual worlds because when once Doro’s world ended quite literally during his transition and he died and took the form of another body this was the metaphorical domino that led to the perceptions others had of him in the novel’s present day. Similarly, Anyanwu world ended once Doro found her in her village and took her to become seed for his ultimate goal of creating the perfect companion to end his loneliness. Once Doro’s perception of Anyanwu of her being nothing more than a tool for him to achieve his ultimate goal some of her independence and personal morals were lost, both of which are vitals parts of humanity. This relationship does well to demonstrate the points Kaplan brings out in his essay on how black people are seen as something categorically meontological because of the perceptions of them during racial-chattel-slavery. This then gives way to what the apocalypse genre truly seeks to uncover: what it really means to be human.

            These foundational observations of the class topics and readings so far has given me much to read for. Already in American Desert by Percival Everett I am seeing the struggle of defining what it really means to be human due to Ted having risen from the dead and seeming to have become something other than the traditional definition/perception of humanity. I am excited to continue to see how this dance between perceived humanity and personal apocalypse seem to play into each other hand in hand in the future readings for the course.