Millennial Literatures of the Americas, 1492-2002

Millennial Literatures of the Americas, 1492-2002

Millennial Literatures of the Americas, 1492-2002

Millennial Literatures of the Americas, 1492-2002


This bracing and far-ranging study compares modern (post-1492) literary treatments of millenarian narratives--"end of the world" stories charting an ultimate battle between good and evil that destroys previous social structures and rings in a lasting new order. While present in many cultures for as long as tales have been told, these accounts take on a profound dramatic resonance in the context of Europe's centuries-long colonization of the American hemisphere.

With an impressive interdisciplinary approach that employs insights from history, ethnography, and theology, Thomas O. Beebee provides nuanced readings of the apocalyptic vision in a diverse group of forms and writers, stretching from the letters of Christopher Columbus to the lyrics of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, the poetry of Ernesto Mart nez, and the bestselling novels of the Left Behind franchise, among other works. Throughout, he pointedly illustrates how millennial discourse has been used as a technology of control to further national and imperial agendas while paradoxically, often simultaneously, serving the forces of resistance. Drawing on a wide variety of records, his analysis shows that repeated eruptions of imagined, epochal conflicts reveal native populations fighting against the eradication of traditional ways of life, making sense of unprecedented violence, and searching for sources of origin. It seems that Americans--North, South, Middle, and Caribbean--tend to define themselves by narrating their End.

Informed by extensive research and an imaginative marshalling of diverse insights, Beebee presents a comprehensive comparative treatment of millennial themes in works from English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. In so doing, he illustrates that prophesies of telos, and the literature that imagines them, provide a vital context for understanding the connected yet distinct cultures that have shaped the American hemisphere.


[Americans] live only for salvation, the Second Coming,
the reward of Rapture. They believe in Jesus, UFOs,
decency, honest banking, and their right to buy assault

—Andrei Codrescu, Messiah

Rayford had cast his lot with God and the miracle of

—LaHaye and Jenkins, Desecration (emphasis added)

In the first epigraph, Andrei Codrescu humorously defines the subject of this book, which I call eschatechnology, by juxtaposing three concepts: technological devices (UFOs, assault weapons); a disciplinary regime or “technology of the self” (decency, honest banking, the “right to buy”); and divine intervention in the form of the end of the world (Rapture, the Second Coming). Codrescu constructs a list from these three categories that characterizes a peculiarly American, millennialist view of the world that is the subject of this study. (Though Codrescu is referring to U.S. citizens, “American” throughout this book refers to both North and South America and to cultures on these continents where the dominant language may be English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish.) Anyone who has read the Left Behind series, on the other hand, knows that the authors of that millennial magnum opus take the link between God, technology, and the end of the world literally and seriously. It seems that more than half of the main Christian characters are jet pilots; the co-op that sustains Christian underground life around the planet arranges trades through digital communication; Tribulation Force reconnoiters the Antichrist by hacking into his computers; the true prophet, Tsion Ben-Judah, delivers his message via the Internet; cell phones are ubiquitous, and so forth.

This book compares literary eschatechnologies produced in a wide spectrum of communities across the Americas, from their colonial (and, as recorded in European languages, pre-Columbian) origins to the present, from the letters of Columbus to the Left Behind series of dispensationalist novels. The goal is to recover and to better understand a theme that has defined the Americas since the arrival of Europeans as a . . .

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