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.