Postapocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract: We'll Not Go Home Again

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9780739176481: Postapocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract: We'll Not Go Home Again

Postapocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract: 'We'll Not Go Home Again' provides a framework for our fascination with the apocalyptic events. The popular appeal of the end of the world genre is clear in movies, novels, and television shows. Even our political debates over global warming, nuclear threats, and pandemic disease reflect a concern about the possibility of such events. This popular fascination is really a fascination with survival: how can we come out alive? And what would we do next? The end of the world is not about species death, but about beginning again. This book uses postapocalyptic fiction as a terrain for thinking about the state of nature: the hypothetical fiction that is the driving force behind the social contract. The first half of the book examines novels that tell the story of the move from the state of nature to civil society through a Hobbesian, a Lockean, or a Rousseauian lens, including Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, Malevil by Robert Merle, and Into the Forest by Jean Hegland. The latter half of the book examines Octavia Butler's postapocalyptic Parable series in which a new kind of social contract emerges, one built on the fact of human dependence and vulnerability.

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About the Author:

Claire P. Curtis is associate professor at the College of Charleston.

Review:

This thoughtful and engaging study effectively utilizes the resources of political theory and literary criticism to illuminate both post-apocalyptic fiction and social contract theory. In the current climate of state-sponsored fear and terror that suffocates hope and silences expressions of human solidarity, it also offers refreshing insights into the elusive meanings of human security and vulnerability. In short, a fine scholarly work. (Laurence Davis, National University of Ireland Maynooth and co-editor of Anarchism and Utopianism)

In the first sustained study of its kind, Claire Curtis juxtaposes postapocalyptic literature with major thinkers and themes of modern political philosophy to draw important insights into political possibilities in an age of recurrent crises. She teases out how most postapocalyptic literature follows the scripts of the social contract as laid down by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Rawls. That perspective allows us to see anew the goals and difficulties of the social contract thinkers; Claire Curtis then looks to Octavia Butler's Parables to find novel ways of re-conceptualizing consent and community. (Peter G. Stillman, Vassar College)

Putting aside the more common question of why people are fascinated with the story of the ultimate violence and punishment, Curtis (political science, College of Charleston) focuses on the question of survival and the viability of working community in the aftermath of worldwide destruction. Anchoring her excellent, readable study with a question—'Is there an ethics of the postapocalypse?'—the author takes select apocalyptic novels and shows how they imaginatively play out the social contract as envisioned by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and others. She systematically explains each philosopher's vision of the social contract and then provides a detailed reading of an apocalyptic novel that exemplifies that vision. Curtis is not as interested in what apocalyptic novels suggest about society as she is in how they can act as a tool to help readers think through the 'basic question of political philosophy: how can a group of people ... live together peacefully.' The first treatment of how the ethics of survival and community rebuilding are manifested in apocalyptic fiction, this much-needed book offers a useful perspective on this growing genre. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. (CHOICE)

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