Apocalyptic ruptures, the new realism(s) in philosophy, and postapocalyptic fiction as an imaginary of a better world

Prof. Dr. Robert Folger, Roman Seminar, Heidelberg University, Germany   

In her recent study New Ecological Realisms: Post-apocalyptic Fiction and Contemporary Theory (2021), Monika Kaup makes a case for reading contemporary postapocalyptic fiction as a supplement to the “new realisms” in philosophy (Bruno Latour, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Markus Gabriel, Alphonso Lingis and Jean-Luc Marion). The new realism claims to debunk the delegitimization of the ontological reality of the world by poststructuralism and postmodernism’s radical constructivism and their emphasis on the impossibility of an unmediated access of the subject to an empirical reality. These new realisms propose the reality of a “systems vision of the real” (52), “ecological” networks, or “fields of sense” (Gabriel) rather than of isolated things or phenomena. In these ontologies, agency is not limited to humans who shape “nature”, but also pertains to non-human actants (plants, animals, technology, Latour’s “factishes”). Kaup argues that “apocalyptic thinking” as “a crisis narrative about the end of an entire world” (5) is essentially ontological, and that contemporary postapocalyptic fiction is “about crawling out of the rubble and remaking world and society from within the wasteland of ruins” (52), a remaking of an un-modern world that has freed itself from foundational modernist binaries of passive nature vs. free humans, and mind vs. body, replacing them with “nature-cultural collectives into which humans have transformed the planet” (47).  

Prof. Dr. Robert Folger will critically review Kaup’s argument and focus some of its flaws, which can be mostly attributed to an eurocentrist bent.  Throughout this seminar, the discussion will focus on the significance and dangers of the apocalyptic narrative framing of catastrophic events, and the possibility to establish postapocalyptic visions that overcome modernity’s constitutional binaries which threaten the world as we know it.