"Apocalypse blindness", climate trauma and the politics of future-oriented affect: revisiting Cormac McCarthy's The Road

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Abstract

In the Anglo-American cultural sphere, the growing awareness of global warming and ecocide has coincided with the proliferation of a much discussed, post-apocalyptic imaginary that transports us to uninhabitable planetary futures. These “fictions,” as E. Ann Kaplan notes in a discussion of their mobilising potential, act as “memories for the future” which make us “identify with future selves struggling to survive.” This article turns to Günther Anders’s notion of “apocalypse-blindness” (1956) and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to set out an alternative way of understanding the powerfully sentimental force such images of doom convey. While seemingly turning our gaze to the future and onto the devastating impact of consumerist lifestyles, I argue that this doom-ridden imaginary also entails a sentimentalisation of our own “inability to feel” and be sufficiently affected by the reality we know ourselves to be contributing to. As such, it bears witness to the trauma of “not being able to adequately feel” what one already knows. By revisiting The Road, a text that occupies a central role in discussions of the potentials and cathartic pitfalls of post-apocalyptic fiction, I suggest that its political potential lies in this confrontation with the limits of feeling. And the politics it opens onto does not hinge on images on ruin, but on a yearning for a socially sanctioned right to feel and express the fear representations only seem able to convey in an inadequate, anaesthetic manner.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-102
Number of pages13
JournalAngelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities
Volume28
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

Keywords

  • disaffection
  • politics of fear
  • language
  • catastrophic imaginaries
  • philosophical anthropology
  • Günther Anders
  • Cormac McCarthy

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