Date of Award

Fall 2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English and Cultural Studies

Supervisor

Sarah Brophy

Co-Supervisor

Nadine Attewell

Language

English

Committee Member

Janice Hladki

Abstract

My dissertation explores the counter-histories of trans-Atlantic modernity that surface in contemporary apocalyptic visuality. Framing twenty-first-century apocalypse films and televisual narratives as “new world” fantasies, I argue that British and American visions of The End re-stage the exploitative “contracts” that underwrite capitalist modernity. While contemporary visions of apocalypse predominantly valorize a survivalist ethos premised on claiming territory, annihilating threatening others, and securing reproductive labour, they can also be read for the ethical, affective, and political alternatives that they inadvertently expose. With this in mind, I bring together the fields of transatlantic studies and biopolitical theory in order to accomplish two complementary objectives. The first aim is to critique the gendered, racial, and generational politics of survivalist fantasies, which I read as conducting a neoliberal pedagogy that reanimates histories of racial terror and sexual exploitation. The second is to develop a biopolitical analysis premised on Hannah Arendt’s principle of natality in order to foreground the reproductive and youthful bodies that have been too long marginalized in theories of biopower. Though they are typically relegated to the background of apocalyptic visual culture, women and children figure the unrealized possibilities that haunt survivalist fantasies—possibilities that, I argue, are embedded in the ruined landscapes that they negotiate. Apocalyptic visions of crumbling metropolises, wasted landscapes, and abandoned border sites invite genealogical excavations of the lingering counter-histories embedded in their ruins. Such critical excavations reveal the “now” as a space-time of contestation in which suppressed pasts open onto a multiplicity of possible futures.

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