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After the End

Representations of Post-Apocalypse

1999
Author:

James Berger

After the End

Explores the cultural function of the concept of “the end.”

In this study of the cultural pursuit of the end and what follows, Berger contends that every apocalyptic depiction leaves something behind, some mixture of paradise and wasteland. Combining literary, psychoanalytic, and historical methods, Berger mines these depictions for their weight and influence on current culture. He applies wide-ranging evidence--from science fiction to Holocaust literature, from Thomas Pynchon to talk shows, from American politics to the fictions of Toni Morrison--to reveal how representations of apocalyptic endings are indelibly marked by catastrophic histories.

A unique thriller of ideas. Berger’s lucid, cogent, and eruditely demonstrated arguments often startled me and mesmerized me-I couldn’t put the book down until the end, and after the end I walked away with a sensation of having had my mind expanded and edified. I predict that After the End will become a classic text not only in literature but also in theology and cultural studies.

Josip Novakovich, author of Salvation and Other Disasters, associate professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Cincinnnati

Apocalyptic thought is hardly unique to the end of the twentieth century; it’s been a fixture of American culture for decades. Currently, the media are rife with omens and signs, and we’re bombarded with warnings that “the end is near.” But as James Berger argues here, the end never comes. There is always something left.

In this study of the cultural pursuit of the end and what follows, Berger contends that every apocalyptic depiction leaves something behind, some mixture of paradise and wasteland. Combining literary, psychoanalytic, and historical methods, Berger mines these depictions for their weight and influence on current culture. He applies wide-ranging evidence-from science fiction to Holocaust literature, from Thomas Pynchon to talk shows, from American politics to the fiction of Toni Morrison-to reveal how representations of apocalyptic endings are indelibly marked by catastrophic histories.

These post-apocalyptic visions reveal as much about our perception of the past as they do about conceptions of the future. Berger examines the role of such historical crises as slavery, the Holocaust, and the Vietnam War and describes how these traumas continue to generate cultural symptoms. The shadow of impending apocalypse darkens today’s vision of the future, but it’s a familiar shadow: traumas we have already experienced as a culture are recycled into visions of new endings. Our “endings” are already after the end.

Berger demonstrates that post-apocalyptic representations are both symptoms and therapies. Contemporary culture continually draws on these traumatic histories, trying to forget, remember, deny, and recover. After the End puts these visions in context, revealing them in some cases as dangerous evasions, in others as crucial tools for cultural survival.

ISBN 0-8166-2932-3 Cloth £00.00 $47.95xx
ISBN 0-8166-2933-1 Paper £00.00 $18.95x
248 Pages 5 7/8 x 9 March
Translation Inquiries: University of Minnesota Press

After the End

James Berger is assistant professor of English at Hofstra University.

After the End

A unique thriller of ideas. Berger’s lucid, cogent, and eruditely demonstrated arguments often startled me and mesmerized me-I couldn’t put the book down until the end, and after the end I walked away with a sensation of having had my mind expanded and edified. I predict that After the End will become a classic text not only in literature but also in theology and cultural studies.

Josip Novakovich, author of Salvation and Other Disasters, associate professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Cincinnnati

With his study, Berger provides a provocative discussion of discursive formations found on the edge between representation and what could be called primary lack. Given that we are on the cusp of a new academic category- twentieth century history- Berger’s ability to situate the inexpressible within a concrete, historical context might be tremendously useful for looking at an era that has been seen, by Westerners at least, to be full of unspeakable horrors.

Henry Street

Berger’s virtue is to be uncomfortably on both sides of the fence, too smart to forget the theory but wanting badly to keep the traumatic truths of historical events beyond the corroding mills of meaning, transformation, and forgetting.

Contemporary Literature

This is an intelligent and informed book. Berger’s arguments and insights are lucid and persuasive, effectively showing how ghosts of the past still live among us.

Utopian Studies