Placing the End of the World in Narrative
The study of apocalypse stands to gain much from literary perspectives because imaginative narrativizing, or the practice of arranging events into temporal relationships with one another, is necessary for understanding what is meant by ‘end’ (as in ‘the end of the world’). However, narratology—the study of narrative—has a troubling tendency to misrecognize this temporal arrangement as the sole meaning-bearer when it comes to plot. In this article, I make the case for a new understanding of narrative, centering 'apocalypse' as an imaginative practice. Using Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy (1990) as a case study, I suggest that, instead of seeking universal narratological laws about worlds and their endings, apocalypse studies would benefit from an understanding of apocalypses as local and historically informed. Colonialism as a world-ending practice creates poetic and aesthetic constraints which necessitate a non-universalizable understanding of apocalypse as a condition that is visited upon people unevenly. Drawing on Caribbean thought, narratology, and recent work in apocalypse studies, I read Lucy to show how it is possible for a narrative to be post-apocalyptic without belonging to the genre of speculative fiction; with colonization acting as the apocalyptic event. Such a practice of reading will help clarify what is meant by 'the end of the world' and make it possible to understand how 'apocalypse' functions even in situations and stories that are not about disasters and cataclysms. Finally, I suggest that reading practices that center apocalyptic poetics bear decolonial possibilities in their unsettling of White, imperial futurity.