Tuesday Topic: The Apocalypse

Okay, so it may not come as a huge surprise when I say that I’ve had a lifelong obsession with the apocalypse. However, I should probably be more specific: I am not fixated on the end of the world. Instead, it’s relentlessly fascinating to me that the concept occupies such a prominent position in cultural lore.

In one way, the impulse to consider the end of the world seems natural. I think that as a species, human beings are baffled by the idea of something tangible and concrete that doesn’t have a termination point. After all, people are born and then they die. We see this pattern echoed in the lifespan of plants and animals, and in the architectural rubble as even the most durable manmade structures break down. Over a long enough timeline, geological formations fragment and continents drift. Therefore, it supports the natural order that everything should have both a beginning and an end. And within a certain cross-section of the population, there is a drive to envision the end and communicate that vision through literature and art.

Most of the apocalyptic motifs popularized by Western film and literature tell us that the end is horrific. It happens by contagion, ecological disaster, alien invasion, rogue comets, or massive militarized destruction. And perhaps most importantly, by zombies.

These things are all well and good, and very exciting in their own right (especially zombies), but the thing that intrigues me most is that the concept of apocalypse might by farther reaching.

The first research project I ever did was on Mayan and Aztec religious rites. To be perfectly honest, this was because I wanted an excuse to write about human sacrifice. However, in the course of my garden-variety research on blood offerings, I learned that the Mayans believed the world had ended four times and was due up for another transformation. This is an illuminating perspective on the concept of the apocalypse, because it suggests that destruction goes in defined cycles and that apocalypse itself might be progressive. That it represents vast, overarching change, rather than fiery cataclysm and ultimate annihilation.

The world ends—as we know it.

Which is fortunate, because otherwise there wouldn’t be that grim, delicious love of my reading life, post-apocalyptic fiction.

7 thoughts on “Tuesday Topic: The Apocalypse

  1. The world ends—as we know it.

    This reminds me of the infinite-realities idea, where every choice creates a new world. Here, every choice destroys a world and births a new one. WAY cooler. And..scarier.

  2. I was watching a program on The History Channel about the “End of Days”, and they had brought in all of these Theologists and other experts, and they were all talking about their respective religion’s Apocalypse, and it was weird because they were all saying 2012, that it would happen December 21, 2012 (12/21/12), and then the show said that scientists speculated that the Magnetic Poles were predicted to swap in 2012. That it had happened so before, and that we were do for another one.

  3. Apocalypses are so very much fun.
    But yeah, I think a lot of the fixation is because no matter how much we picture it, we really can’t imagine EVERYTHING being gone. It’s like a discussion the other day where we were told to image a perfect world…and we all kept making snide comments about dissenters being shot and protesters kept in prisons beneath the street. When something’s all you’ve ever known, it’s really, really tough to imagine it fundamentally different.
    But imagining apocalypses…never gets old. Ever.
    *is in the most fun part of planning a zombie apocalypse story*

  4. That idea used to scare me so much when I was little and then in my head, it would get all conflated with A Wrinkle in Time, and those pools they jump into in The Magician’s Nephew, until I wasn’t sure if I’d accidentally crossed over into an alternate reality without noticing.

    I had a very active inner-life as a child.

  5. Ooh, I love End of Days stuff! I knew that everyone was all worked up about 2012 because that’s when the Mayan long count calendar runs out, but I had no idea about the poles *runs off to research geomagnetic reversal*

  6. Yes! It is so hard to picture an absence of everything that constitutes the world, so instead, the end just resembles something else that’s different, but still the world. Preferably with zombies–all my best apocalypses are the zombie kind.

  7. I used to think that all the time, too. That I was jumping realities. Or that when I closed my eyes, the world went away. I had an egotistical inner-life as a child. 😉

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