Residues of Now: The Cultures and Politics of Contemporary U.S. Post-Apocalyptic Novels

  • Author / Creator
    Bellamy, Brent R.
  • This study examines the significance of the boom of U.S. post-apocalyptic novels after the American Century. This dissertation argues that U.S. post-apocalyptic novels tend to be reactionary and political conservative, but that they can still be read critically for what I call their residues. I approach these novels as residual in three ways: first, in terms of residual social ontology within the post-apocalyptic novel; second, in their residual generic form; and, third, in the residues of their historical present. Residues of Now describes and investigates the field of contestation generated by U.S. post-apocalyptic novels in order to reveal the struggle between their reactionary and progressive logics. Chapter I compares contemporary post-apocalyptic novels to those from the height of the American Century, developing a tropology of the post-apocalyptic novel. The catalogue, the last man, and the enclave are tropes that feature prominently in exemplary texts by George Stewart, Richard Matheson, and Walter Miller Jr. from the post World War II period and which appear reconfigured in Stephen King’s The Stand (1978) as well as in the post-apocalyptic novels today. Chapter II assesses the post-apocalyptic novel as a political sub-genre of science fiction by reading Brian Evenson’s novel Immobility (2012) against Darko Suvin’s definitive description of science fiction as the literature of cognitive estrangement and Fredric Jameson’s elaboration of cognitive mapping. Evenson’s novel describes the fearful immobile body transported through space always seeking a beginning in a way that captures not just the immobility of its protagonist, but the politics of immobility that lie at the heart of the post-apocalyptic novel itself. Chapter III investigates the spatial dynamics of David Brin’s The Postman (1985) and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore (1984). It introduces the frontier and accumulation by dispossession as central concerns in the mid-1980s through Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985). The Postman and The Wild Shore each still operate, in crucially different ways, on the frontier myth. Their difference effectively captures the contest at the heart of the post-apocalyptic conceit between conservative, nationalist reaction and progressive, world building vision. Chapter IV interrogates the prevalence of the family and the child in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). It frames its discussion of McCarthy’s novel with a slipstream novel, Total Oblivion, More or Less (2009), by Alan DeNiro and a survivalist fiction, Patriots (2009) by James, Wesley Rawles. Each novels features birth prominently, which helps me to develop a narrative theory of reproductive futurism, which is inspired by the work of Rebekah Sheldon. I find that, whether reactionary (Rawles), critical (DeNiro), and ambiguous (McCarthy), reproductive futurism subtends the post-apocalyptic novel. I conclude Residues of Now with an epilogue that explores possible future directions for research, including the role of energy in post-apocalyptic novels that are concerned primarily with environmental degradation.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2014
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • English
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Wald, Priscilla (English)
    • O'Driscoll, Michael (English and Film Studies)
    • Loveless, Natalie (Art and Design)
    • Simpson, Mark (English and Film Studies)