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.

What It Means To See an End

In my nineteen years, eight months, one day, thirteen hours and twenty-nine minutes on this Earth, I have had my world end four times. What felt like devastating and life changing experiences that tore my being apart, they were, in actuality, miniscule when only applied to myself in the scale of the world’s constant tragedy. I had not coined the term “apocalypse” to be associated with the definitions we have discussed in class, yet they make the utmost amount of sense in retrospect. Most societies have been socially trained through the media to link ideas like zombies, nuclear waste, and other science-fiction fantasy-esque topics to what an apocalypse is. However, taking into account the essay “Notes Towards (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought” by Santana Kaplan, Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, and an introduction to Percival Everett’s novel American Desert, we can concur that an apocalypse does not have to behave like the typical depiction we see, rather it can consist of a varying scale. For some individuals, they state their apocolypses to be the world around them being destroyed, whereas others portray their conceptions as when their own personal world dies in some way, shape, or form. Despite the take, an apocalypse in my mind seems to require some form of change in normalcy. Taking into account the pendulum of apocalyptic definitions, I have wondered which has a harsher impact: an individual apocalypse or a worldly one.  

My world ended when I was five years old for the first time when my parents separated. At that time I didn’t quite understand the depth to the seriousness of the situation, nor the impact it would wreck on my life years afterward. By incorporating the speculations from above, I would describe this instance in my life to be an individual apocalypse. Within the literary work Wild Seed, the main characters Anyanwu and Doro experience a vast array of their own calamities. Anyanwu has lived for centuries and has lost many children, outgrown them and watched them and generations afterwards pass on. She loses her freedom when Doro’s life and her’s intertwined, their immortality chaining one to the other out of self preservation and loneliness. Her understanding of her surroundings is constantly altered, she is barely given time to adjust and step onto her feet. Doro–while he does not get the most sympathy throughout the majority of the book–we observed had his life collapse when everything he’d known to be was gone, his humanity revoked along with the lives of his townsfolk. In these instances, when the personal world was altered, the outside world was affected in a dire way. Anyanwu was taken from her home where her life was flipped upside down, and in turn she was used to breed a possibly enhanced human race with potential powers, weaving the effects of her estrangement within a plethora of communities around the planet. Doro’s apocalypse instilled fear in many colonies; it altered many parts of societies through his mission to breed the perfect race. Henceforth, when we observe an individual change, occasionally that change can send a reverberation of ripples throughout the world. 

I was in ninth grade when my world ended for the third time. I came to the realization through an introduction to high school and the beginnings of complex schooling that the place I lived in was not the wonderful place I had been told growing up. In fact, it is filled with nonstop plagues of death that take various appearances all over. This epiphany was not my own world falling apart, so much so as the perception of the world finally being clear enough to see it already was in the process of devastation. In Wild Seed, I had pondered about Doro’s apocalypse he experienced as a child and how that affected his surroundings, the small to the big ripple effect. On the other hand, Anyanwu fell into one of those ripples sent out by Doro’s immortality. Her life changed once Doro knew of her existence, but did she change the lives of those around her due to her own apocalypse? Or possibly it manifest from a separate cataclysmic event in someone else’s timeline, AKA Doro’s. I’ve established that the two powerful beings are connected on many levels. If we take it a step further, we can see how personal apocalypses create worldly changes, but also vice versa. The typical depiction of an apocalypse through a movie or video game centers its focus on one individual person, enduring the aftereffects of the collapse of their society. Anyanwu’s personal realm was damaged and dismantled due to Doro’s own personal apocalypse, for without his transformation into the creature he is, we would not have seen Anyanwu’s life be modified in a momentous way. She was living her life, pushing through the losses of her family except all the while creating new kinsmen to ease her loneliness. I’ve begun to question to what end does this cycle go, though, and how might the understanding of these topics aid us in comprehending the infiniteness of our finite existence. 

As we read through the beginning of American Desert, I have noticed how typical humanity tends to be when faced with fear-evoking encounters.  When Ted is revived through some unworldly miracle, instead of preaching life and hope, Ted’s city revolted. It spiraled into absolute chaos at the understanding–or lack thereof–of Ted’s rejuvenation. Why do people turn to actions of destruction to process the unknown? How must we alter our minds’ capabilities to stay sane after witnessing unfathomable events? An apocalypse of the individualistic nature, if attention-grabbing enough, acts as an activator for the circumambient communities to revolt, destroying what they knew to eliminate what they didn’t. Within Santana Kaplan’s essay, he discusses how Afro-pessimism requires the end of Western human civilization because the racism lies too deep within history and society. Santana states that “The Worldly privileging of citizenship, rights, and inclusion fundamentally reinforces our constitutive forgetfulness of the question of Black being” (Kaplan 73). Inside humanity there lies constant reminders for people of color that their ancestry endured such traumatic oppression, their lives revoked of individuality. As time passed on, their identities were built back up with the culture they had originally lost as well as the strength in their abilities to find equality. Despite everyone’s best efforts to progressively enhance society into true equality, the endeavors are met with the persistent reminder of a racist presence intertwined into everyday aspects of life. The only way to erase racism is to invoke a cataclysmic event, to fully abolish the wrong-doings of man. To complete this task, however, is almost impossible, not only due to the grandiosity of the act but because society’s ignorance causes many to believe society as a whole understands racism, and because its roots/history is “understood” by the prominent demographic–white people–it is a fathomable concept. Its existence is too known by the majority, therefore Western civilization humanity is not willing to destroy it out of fear.

There are connects through practically everything we see around us, through history and the present, even the future we picture as we wouldn’t be capable to make assumptions without the inclusion of current evidence. In class we conferred about recent events like the Oklahoma City Bombing, black helicopters, new world order conception, Ruby Ridge, and Waco. As we dived into the context of these horrific events, we began to see patterns as one event had a tie, then two ties, then multiple ties to every other event on the board. Society creates issues to solve the ones it feels threaten the sanctity of its structure. Through prejudice, racism, classism, ableism, sexism, etc., the divisions between us all grow wider each passing moment as we ourselves break off into our secluded colonies, prepping for the completely literal end of the planet. 

Are We in the Midst of A Global Apocalypse?

By: Madison Butler

According to the Book of Revelation, the four stages of the apocalypse are conquest, war, famine, and death. While these four stages can be seen in the literary texts we have read thus far, we can also see these in the real world. It is fair to say that the world is slowly moving at a decline. As we know, everything must eventually come to an end. So if the end is inevitable, it is more a matter of what signifies such an end and to consider it, we must understand the notions of individual versus a major apocalyptic event. Wild Seed by Octavia Butler and American Desert by Percival Everett both represent individual and major apocalyptic events. Which leads me to think, are we in the midst of a global  apocalypse? And if so, what individual events have or will lead us to the end of the world? 

In Octavia Butler’s book, Wild Seed, we see the main character, Anyanwu, go through her own individual apocalypse and how that affects the rest of the world around her. Anyanwu’s individual apocalypse is the struggles that she deals with while in the grasp of Doro, the antagonist in the book. It is also interesting to think about Doro, and how in his life, his death changed the course of history. With his newfound power, he was able to manipulate and control other individuals which led to their dependence on Doro to take care of them and keep the world in order. Much like today, we depend on people in power to ensure our prosperity and keep our world from collapsing. However, more times than not, it is those within power that affect the apocalyptic events in history that create a chain reaction and may eventually lead to the end of the world. In the real world, we see many individual apocalyptic events on a day to day basis. From mass school shootings, to the war in Ukraine, to the deadly global pandemic due to the coronavirus, it is easy to feel like the world is going downhill rapidly. It is interesting how a single apocalyptic event, like the ones we see in the texts we have read, such as the “rebirth” of Ted Street in Percival Everett’s book, American Desert, tend to lead to a larger, post-apocalyptic event; which in regards to the example from Everett’s book, was the rioting and ultimate chaos that unleashed in the streets after the shocking arisal of the pronounced dead, Ted Street. In life, we have seen time and time again how historical events can lead to the cause of another catastrophic event later in history. In 1993, there was a week-long standoff in Waco Texas, between the federal government and the Branch Davidians, which were an armed religious group at the time. According to the History Channel website, the prophet of the religious group, David Koresh, “was appointed by God to bring about the end of the world.” On April 19, 1993, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the property where Koresh and the other Davidians were hiding and ended up killing 80 Branch Davidians, 25 of which were children. This event led to public aggression and riots, declaring the event to be illegal and barbaric. One of the angered civilians was a former Army veteran named Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh went on to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma city exactly two years after the Waco Massacre. This is a prime example of how an individual post-apocalyptic event has the ability to spark a chain reaction of many post-apocalyptic events and set the world on fire. 

Wild Seed, shows the struggles with power and how power can affect the surrounding environment. Doro, being the most powerful character in the story, asserts his control onto everyone in his community and even continues to find new people to breed it. He does this in hopes to find a “good seed,” as Butler writes it, to breed an individual with similar power to his, but still make it so that they would be unable to overthrow him. He takes Anyanwu in order to breed her, due to her supernatural abilities. Doro, feels a little threatened by Anyanwu, leading him to relegate her to a basic form of slavery. Throughout the entire book, we see Anyanwu struggle with Doro’s authority over her and the community. The ending of Wild Seed proves that even the almighty have weakness’ and that no matter what, there is always a way to avert power. This is true in the world today. We are sorted into different classes, with each class being more powerful than another. In the United States, if you are rich, you automatically have more power than if you are a part of a low income class. In many places around the world, if you are a woman, you are considered less than in society. Even in Iran today, riots are breaking out in the streets because of the death of Mahsa Amari. Groups around the world are being targeted one by one. From the rape and murder of Native Americans, to the enslavement and slaughter of African Americans, to the control and murder of women, and to the genocides and discrimination of many other minority groups, people within these groups are being targeted and eliminated slowly over time. If you turn on the news, it seems like every story consists of  kidnapping, murder, war, disease, and so on. The quest for power is, once again, what drives our society and our world into the ground. It is arguably the cause of most every historical event that has led us to this point in time. The cause of slavery was the assertion of power onto African Americans. Each catastrophic event in history is leading us closer to the unpredictable future. 

When an individual’s apocalypse happens in the world, each apocalypse can add together to create the ultimate apocalypse. Based on the ideas presented in the book Wild Seed, as well as the other literary texts we have discussed and analyzed so far,  they have questioned the ideology of what an apocalypse is and how it can occur. With these texts, it is easy to see the parallels between fiction and reality and to ask ourselves the same questions that some of the characters in our books may be questioning as well. It’s easy for us to be blind to our own ignorance  which will ultimately lead to us not paying attention to the compounding nature of all of these individual apocalypses which could lead to the end of the world. This will lead us to focus on each individual event rather than the effect they will all have on the world. Which leads me to believe that the world may be in the midst of an apocalyptic time period and that it is only a matter of time before another individual apocalyptic event leads to the extinction of all humankind.

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.