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May 14, 2007


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To me the natural contrast for the Road (and COM, by extension) is Beckett's Endgame. There is a real opposition between the apocalypse Beckett and the new American apocalyptic genre.
I think where Beckett really beats out CM is by placing the entire breakdown in language itself. As Christopher Ricks tries to show, Beckett is about the words going dead, the use of cliches, which, within the lifecycle of the language, are the dead words.
OTOH what I like about CM is the idea of mining for misapplications. By this I mean that everything (from food to values) that the boy and the father find is not exactly appropriate to the situation. The metaphor of being "the good guys" and carrying the flame doesnt exactly work. After all, are the flesh eaters "the bad guys," for trying to survive? So too with the supplies they scavenge, which arent meant to do what they have them do. The morality and the stuff are both end products of a different system, which do not fully connect with the current reality. It would be easier to survive, I guess, a nuclear holocaust launched on a medieval country, where the leftovers would be waterwheels and stuff of that nature-- at least it would be easier to start farming again.

IMHO, this is what happens when the boy connects with the new people who "adopt" him-- it is about the compatibility of various products, subjects, moralities which have been decontextualized.


Children of Men, Jericho, Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel--I think there’s something a bit nefarious at work here. Instead of reading this rash of apocalyptic narratives as articulations of Leftist anxiety about the military-industrial powers that be, they smack to me of capitalism using scare-tactics to maintain itself. I think, Jodi, you have said something along these lines specifically about Children of Men in the past. So you want to envision an Outside to capitalism, huh? Alright, fine, but it will be an unfertile land of slow, hopeless, geriatric decline involving ads for suicide pills designed to keep down the cost of your aging bones to the State (e.g. Children of Men), or a dark city of random terrorist bombings and weird faux-Leninist identity erasure where everyone wears Guy Fawkes masks during the morning commute (V for Vendetta). (Note also that London is the setting for both films—“We’re still celebrating the End of Empire, dammit!”)

But I have also found myself reading these apocalyptic fantasies as belonging specifically to the Baby Boom generation, embittered for decades now after trading in their VW Bugs for Lexii and currently staring down the barrel of their mid-sixties propped up with enough pharmacological gumption to enjoy indulging the occasional “Let’s take ‘em all down with us!” fantasy. Generation X was encouraged to become particularly sullen and nihilist teenagers by their retired-hippie moms and dads who enjoyed believing their own misspent youth was not the least bit self-involved. I suppose it's too easy to blame the parents, though, and I definitely can’t blame my own, as they were middle- and working-class third-gen kids of Irish and Czech immigrants who felt it was more important to work and remain apolitical than join in the fracas. Not that I champion their apolitical-ness, but at the same time it seems like it was mainly the children of privilege who could afford—both financially and culturally—to be hippies in the Sixties. Mine were too busy being semi-poor, very Catholic, and intensely square. And the Flower Children definitely got to nurse their status as nostalgic radicals when their kids were busily riding the dot.com bubble and attending Commercial-paloozas in the 90s. At least now there’s this post-911 generation that seems to sincerely enjoy writing political tracts on Daily Kos and raising more productive, less drug-induced Cain.


Jericho? wtf? And, um, everything I do doesn't involve trying to imagine and outside to capital. I was grateful to find a novel that was more than entertainment.


overcode, i disagree with your premise. you may practically be correct, but there is still the narrative of mass death and the atom bomb left over from the fifties. i really thing we still live in this kind of atomic epoch and thus the annihilation is a real threat. that having been said we still havent got the language for it. of course, the presuppositions of such a discourse may be as you say, just like you cannot build an atom bomb without some ISAs in your arsenal as well (it hasnt been done yet).
but still, there is the question of articulating what comes after, and that is the most tantalizing of all.
also, why are we afraid of the bomb? on a purely practical level there is the model of strangelove. on a slightly more sophisticated level, we see the patocka/kierkegaard analysis of silence meaning the end of responsibility. which sort of means that theres a part of us that looks forward to the orgasmic jouisaance potential of the annhilation of all humanity.

Dale Smith

I read the Road Last fall when I should have been doing many other things: I couldn't put it down. To me it was also, in addition to what Jodi says about it, an exploration of goodness and beauty under the most fucked-out conditions imaginable. It's also very much about the present. Much of the road really is post-language if you want to pull Beckett into it. It asks--under what conditions are you willing to maintain heart?

On another, but related, note, here's a "fictional" site that imagines life in America with dwindling energy resources: http://worldwithoutoil.org.


I haven't read the Road, but i want to suggest a parallel in structure between Children of Men and a great apocalyptic story by Joyce Carol Oates called Family. In both, the anticipation of a final, liberating breath is prolonged just as the rate of the world's collapse is narrated at an exponentially increasing rate-- a breach never occurs, and the postapocalyptic condition creates distractions from this contradiction.

COM's method is to create new interpersonal relationships just as old ones are extinguished, while Family's aphoristic style manages to suggest an ever increasing disorder without dispelling the surprise that things keep getting worse. In Family, this is explicitly written as amnesia--names are forgotten, new characters take on the roles of old family members--but there's a lot of forgetfulness in COM as well. Vagueness about the human project, feeding babies slices of orange (!), the withering of the state away from everything except jets and plasma screens.

Cribbed quote: "each reminiscence envelops at some level
the memory of the origin of memory, the torture that had to be inflicted on humans in order for them to be able to
remember." So, life in self-contained strings of action or singular moments in time dispurse memory in very much a late capitalist schizophrenic way.

If you encounter the story read it!


Thanks, folks, for the suggestions. I have a place in my heart for postapocalyptic distopias (and so I also enjoyed 28 Weeks Later, or at least that part that I saw when I wasn't covering my eyes).

I have a question: the last paragraph of The Road. Should it be read as an evocation of the past, as a remnant, or lingering memory? Or should it be read more hopefully, as happening to the boy after he is with the family? Or, are we to persist in the ambiguity, particularly insofar as only a few pages earlier there is a line about time or days gone uncounted and uncalendered?


Hey Prof D,

Just a heads up with a slight redirection (I have a nasty habit of approaching things from a round about manner)

The film adaptation of Children of Men (I love post apocalyptic visuals) was recently released on DVD and *surprise surprise* it features an audio commentary by Slavoj Zizek.

It is truly an extra on the disc, a brief documentary featuring him commenting on specific scenes.

Fascinating to watch, and was hooked from the minute he considered that film adaptation of Children of Men is somewhat of a spiritual "remake" of Y Tu Mama Tambien...

How he draws the connection I will not say, ruins the experience of watching him dissect moments from the film, but I must say that his approach to viewing the film/the lense he views it with, is fascinating!

Dale Smith

Jodi, yeah, that last paragraph is amazing--holy shit. Really, it's one of the most extraordinary pieces of writing I've seen in a while. I don't know. I can only read it somewhat hopefully, especially after the Daniel Boone figure comes whistling out of the wilderness just when the boy needs some comfort. That last part too where the woman talks about Jesus but the boy is more interested in the memory of his father--that again is a hopeful moment--moving us outward toward some more useful purpose religiously.

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