This weekend I’ll be in Las Vegas for the 19th annual Far West Popular and American Cultural Association Conference, where I’m presenting a paper entitled:

Enjoy Your Apocalypse! Apocalyptic Fantasies, Jouissance, and
Social Symtpoms in Life Under Post-Industrial Capitalism

Basically I’ll be engaging in a lame analysis of how apocalyptic narratives are ciphers for the subject’s relationship to the impossible-real of society, to the fact that society doesn’t exist, envisioning the possibility of surmounting this real through a collapse of the current social configuration. Through an analysis of Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow, I hope to show the structure at work in rightwing and leftwing versions of this fantasy, where in the former apocalypse results from the alien outsider or invader (the meteor hurtling towards earth) such that defeating this invader allows society to reallign itself in terms of an organic community no longer beset upon by intrusive government or misguided liberals (the film begins with Bruce Willis hitting golfballs at a Greenpeace boat protesting his oil drilling); whereas in the latter apocalypse results from the self-reflexivity of the social where our own acts lead to our destruction (thus films such as Terminator, the Matrix, and I, Robot belong to this genre as well), and the apocalypse functions to overcome nationalistic and ethnic tensions (the famous celebration scene in the third Matrix film, Mexico hosting U.S. citizens in The Day After Tomorrow), and re-establish familial and sexual bonds. K-Punk has argued that the films I describe as apocalyptic are, in fact, survivalist. However, I would argue that all apocalyptic narratives are survivalist, in that they all envision a form of post-apocalyptic subjectivity that now lives in peace, prosperity, and harmony. For instance, in many Christian apocalyptic narratives, a thousand years of peace are said to follow the final battle between good and evil or Christ and Satan.

Ultimately I would like to end with a brief discussion of Zizek’s parallax, arguing that what these films represent is the impossibility of the social itself, or, rather, that the social is not one or the other (communitarian organic bonds versus collections of autonomous and self-determining individuals), but rather the very tension between these two conceptions of the social. Somewhere in there I plan to plug our discussions here in the academic blogosphere, but I really won’t have the time or space to develop them as they should be developed.

Generally, I don’t like to present at these sorts of conferences as I always feel a bit silly in my pop-cultural analyses, always finding them a bit facile (K-Punk, Jodi Dean, and Foucaultisdead are far better at this sort of thing), and feeling more at home in the arid world of theory. But a friend asked me to be on his panel and it’s a chance to see Las Vegas, which I’ve never before visited. At any rate, I probably won’t have much time to write over the next couple of days as I’m busily pulling all this together at the last minute. If any of you happen to be at this conference, drop by and have a gander. Our panel is entitled “Religious Appeal(s)” and is at 1:45 on Saturday… My paper was originally entitled “Secular Theologies” and I was going to argue that certain forms of religion are a structure of thought (it’s necessary for me to defer to Anthony Paul Smith’s claim that religion is not a univocal concept or that religion does not exist), not a set of ontological commitments to the divine, but rudely changed the topic at the last minute.

In the meantime, N.Pepperell has written a beautiful and challenging summation of where we’re at in our ongoing dialogue over at Rough Theory, that is well worth the read. Hopefully I’ll have more to say about this when I return. Siren’s song indeed. I’d much rather be thinking of those issues than working on this paper.

* Picture shamelessly filched from K-Punks blog. My friend Melanie tells me that people like visual aids. The Platonist in me recoils.