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Trauma, Post Apocalyptic and the Post-Human

Academically speaking, can we really ever know enough about zombies?

Ever since George Romero re-woke the dead in 1968 and revolutionised the horror genre, academics have been flocking to explain just what makes us so damn terrified of zombies.

Enter a new contestent in this lofty pursuit of knowledge: Anirban Kapil Baishya and his essay Trauma, Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction and the Post Human, examining the idea of the ‘post-human’ in cinematic science fiction and horror cinema through zombification.

In his analysis, Baishya looks to the films 28 Days Later, it’s sequel 28 Weeks Later, as well as Children of Men, to explore what draws us to scenes of post apocalyptic disaster.

Baishya suggests that post-apocalyptic films draw from a library of traumatic media images that stretches back to the holocaust, and that these images are used to create narratives that disturb us 1) because they refer to a troubling past (such as the holocaust) and 2) because of their uncanny resemblance to the present – a present in which media images are inherently traumatic (think 9/11, Japan earthquakes, Queensland floods).

That is a pretty simplistic summary of what is a pretty complex topic, so here it is again in Baishya’s words:

“Post-apocalyptic horror and science fiction cinema

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The Cormac McCarthy Journal

As it goes, I tend to keep track of any new papers on post apocalyptic theory using email alerts on Google Scholar. Over the weekend I came across a journal I had not seen before called the Cormac McCarthy Journal.

For those interested in McCarthy himself, the journal is a deep well of academic writings covering his major and minor works.  For those specifically interested in post apocalyptic theory, particularly in relation to McCarthy’s novel The Road, there are some excellent reference articles in volume 6 of the journal, which is dedicated to that novel.

A sample of the relevant articles include:

  1. The End of the Road: Pastoralism and the PostApocalyptic Waste Land of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, by Tim Edwards
  2. Mapping The Road in Post-Postmodernism, by Linda Woodson
  3. The Route and Roots of The Road, by Wesley G. Morgan

Volume 6 of The Cormac McCarthy Journal is available for download here.

For a more extensive list of post apocalyptic theory references, visit my post apocalyptic theory reading list.… Read more

An apocalyptic appetite

Just out of interest I did a Google Insights search for “post apocalyptic” to see how the genre’s interest has been building over the last few years.

I’m not sure if anybody else has noticed, but since the latter part of last decade there has been a steady influx of post-apocalyptic themed movies and texts coming out of the culture grinder. Everything from Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize winning novel The Road, to the first (from memory) post-apocalyptic movie for kids WALL-E.

We’ve all heard rumours that the future doesn’t exist, and now it’s looking like more and more of us believe it. Below is the growth rate of worldwide searches for “post apocalyptic” on Google over the past few years.

Notice the recent spike over the beginning of 2011? Post-apocalyptic landscapes don’t come much more real than the March tsunami in Japan.

2011.03.11_japan tsunami


If you haven’t read my post-apocalyptic short story City of Birds yet, oh you’ll love it. And it comes free with my brain expanding thesis on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. And if you’re interested in publishing the story, gosh, well that would be swell.Read more

Post apocalyptic theory reading list

When I was embarking on my thesis early last year, I discovered a distinct lack of online discussion of post apocalyptic theory. Sure I could find a fairly extensive wikipedia reading list of post apocalyptic fiction, but there just didn’t seem to be a good starting point for exploring post apocalyptic theory from a more academic perspective.

Hence, I thought I would kick things off by laying down the reading list I developed for the various post apocalyptic theories explored in my own thesis.

For ease of use, I have tried to group the readings into the various ‘theoretical disciplines’.  Most of these texts can be accessed via regularly available journal databases or Google Scholar.

Let me know if it helps. If you want to add to this list, leave a comment at the bottom.


Trauma and the Post Apocalyptic

The following texts deal with representations of trauma in fiction, and can be used to link post apocalyptic literature to trauma theory.

Heffernan, Teresa. Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth-Century Novel

Lutrull, Daniel. Prometheus Hits The Road: Revising the Myth

Strand, Linus. The Road at the End of the World – Sentimentality Read more

The modern apocalypse

Stumbled upon a fascinating new piece of research done by a fellow apocalypse fan Chandra Phelan. The research tracks apocalyptic endings over the last 200 years.

Phelan has come to some interesting conclusions; suggesting that in the last 20 years apocalyptic endings have become increasingly vague – pitching stories that begin well after an event has occured with little to no explanation as to what has bought about a post-apocalyptic state.

To go with her analysis, Phelan has produced a very snazzy chart mapping the ends of civilisation over some 423 books, poems and short stories, in an attempt to find a logical trend (see below).

Charting Apocalyptic Endings

Phelan states:

“The post-apocalyptic technological utopias of the turn of the century are replaced by dystopias and robot rebellions after World War I (the first expansion of the green region devoted to human-made disaster), when everyone began to suspect that technology was only going to help us go about killing each other more efficiently, not cure us of the need to kill in the first place. Other trends are there, too: anxiety about pollution and global warming tend to spike whenever nuclear fears fade, for example.”

As the post apocalyptic stories enter the 1990s, … Read more

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