Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Understanding Apocalyptic Events through Literature

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Understanding Apocalyptic Events through Literature

Article excerpt

Understanding apocalyptic events through literature


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Sheheryar Badar Sheikh, Graduate Student and TSDF Fellow, University of Saskatchewan

In recent years, we have seen an epic scale of destruction caused by war, terrorism, global warming, famine and the obliteration of human cultural artifacts.

These events could be considered apocalyptic -- either on a global scale, or as threats to specific communities.

When I began studying apocalypses in literature four years ago, my focus was on events like the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wanted to understand what sense we could make of humanity when the world has seen such apocalyptic situations.

But I discovered the study of apocalypse is a deeper well than most people can fathom. The root meaning of "apocalypse," means "uncovering" or "lifting of the veil," which indicates that a revelation may be made at the end.

As a student of both Western and Eastern literatures and cultures, I benefit from the cultural differences in the readings of apocalypses. In subcontinental Indian, especially Hindu, culture and texts, apocalypses are not linear but cyclical. South Asian literature may offer different connotations in cultural terms for personal apocalyptic events as well.

The end of times has a special quality: that of sifting what is important from what is superficial and unnecessary. This distillation is not limited to material things that one carries across the final calamity. And apocalypses don't necessarily have to be all-encompassing in terms of destruction.

Apocalyptic events can even be smaller in scale, both destroying and revealing at a very personal level. Small-scale personal apocalypses also push us to re-evaluate and streamline our ideas and conceptions about our lives.


Opposing ideas exist about how to deal with apocalyptic events in a literary sense. Literary and cultural critic Jacques Derrida, in a glib statement about catastrophe, said that a total annihilation of human species, especially by nuclear fallout, is "fabulously textual."

Derrida meant that while text looks like innocent marks on a page, in fact texts can have an explosive and unpredictable impact on readers. He was also pointing out a political and existential conundrum: while we find ourselves waiting for an absolute, final annihilation, all we can do is talk and write about it. …

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