Literature II: Apocalypse and Transformation

Totalitarian Opportunism:  J. J. Connington’s Nordenholt’s Million (1923)

Jennifer Woodward

J.J. Connington’s 1923 British disaster novel Nordenholt’s Million is an extreme, proto fascist work that responds to the interwar context of economic decline and social unrest in Britain. It utilises an apocalyptic scenario (soil denitrification) to draw an analogue of contemporary Britain and is uncompromising in its critique of conventional government systems and social decline. The novel depicts a situation where, to enable survival, the weak, dissenters and the unskilled are sacrificed in a drive towards creating a utopian future. Accordingly, in Nordenholt’s Million the apocalypse is a transformative opportunity. It offers a wish fulfilment tale involving the emergence of strong, decisive leadership to instigate a highly efficient, eugenically constructed ‘ideal’ post-apocalyptic society. At the conclusion, a new civilisation emerges in which what the novel has framed as the social, political and economic problems of Britain have been overcome.

Drawing upon the appeal of extreme politics Nordenholt’s Million tackles the morality of its politics by emphasising the necessity – and even desirability – of dictatorship in difficult circumstances. It presents dictatorship as the political solution to weak government and contemporary crises. Such a positive representation of dictatorship, even one apparently justified by catastrophe, could only have been written in a pre-World War II context. However, less than a century later, the extremes that the text presents as so appealing are echoed in in new social and political arenas informed by fear and discontent. Nordenholt’s Million is then, a revealing and disconcerting novel that explores the appeal of fascism during periods of social and economic unease.


Representations of the Apocalypse in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy: Between Popular Entertainment and Longing for Eden

Stephanie Bender

Walter Benjamin’s prediction that we “might come to enjoy the spectacle of [our] own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure (cf. Bouson 2015)” seems to become ever more plausible in contemporary fiction, in which the apocalypse has become an almost ordinary feature. Rather than depicting the human apocalypse as a threat only, many popular literary works such as Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy reveal its utopian potential under the current circumstances of global warming and ecological destruction. Interestingly, in the trilogy, the apocalypse as a new beginning is eagerly anticipated from two traditionally diametrically opposed sides: science and religion. While for the scientist, who wilfully triggers the apocalyptic event, humanity represents a deranged species to be replaced by a biotechnologically improved variant, the eco-religious sect called the God’s Gardeners celebrate it as rebirth to a better form of human civilisation in harmony with nature. The novels also mirror their own staging of the human apocalypse as part of the present cultural imaginary on an intradiegetic level, as a mise-en-abyme. In the story-world, too, apocalyptic visions have become “a queasy form of popular entertainment. There had been online TV shows about it: computer-generated landscape pictures with deer grazing in Times Square, serves-us-right finger-wagging, earnest experts lecturing about all the wrong turns taken by the human race (MaddAddam 31).” I would like to argue that the aesthetic simulation of the apocalypse both in and through popular contemporary fiction represents the quest for a radically different kind of ethics or values in the age of the Anthropocene.

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