Examining the Apocalypse

Lee Quinby, Anti-Apocalypse: Exercises in Genealogical Criticism, University of Minnesota, 1994
Lee Quinby, Millennial Seduction: A Skeptic Confronts Apocalyptic Culture, Cornell, 1999

I feel strangely conflicted by these writings of Lee Quinby. We both share a degree of interest in the subject of how pervasive apocalyptic themes are in the culture. We also both deeply reject their ultimate validity and value. People should not believe such nonsense, if only because it has shown such a consistent pattern of failure and because anybody employing such a premise in their dealings with the real world must be making major mistakes.

Yet I have major problems with these books. For one thing, considering how much material there is that can be discussed concerning apocalyptic; a lot of the books actually have little to do with the topic. They are weighted down with long discussions of feminist politics and the diversity of feminist thought. Anti-Apocalypse is heavily into Foucaultian obsessions. It has a discussion of the implicit messages of blue-jeans advertising which might be enjoyable to academic tastes, but seems terribly digressive and irrelevant if you have bought the book on the attraction of the title. Millennial Seduction similarly groans with academic jargon and strays into themes like the sexuality of Thoreau and an appreciation of Angels in America. The books seem incredibly unfocused.

One thing that bothers me is that both books take the matter of apocalypse’s ties to masculine evils and hatred and intolerance and oppression as somehow self-evident. I am inclined to accept that there is a correlation and surely the more hard-ass versions of Christianity tend to emphasise apocalypse. But is it really the idea of apocalypse that leads to these evils?

If we could selectively battle down manifestations of apocalyptic thought and let other premises of Christianity stand, would we really see these things fall away? My own suspicion is that hard-ass dogmatists tend to have more brittle psychologies and the attendant breakdowns are what yields feelings of imminent cataclysm. One needs to combat such notions as the inherently sinful nature of one’s self and various premises like a vengeful God, magical sacrifice to display submission and win God’s blessings, redemption via zealotry and pious acts, and other religious logic.

Apocalypse, in this view, is a symptom of a larger problem rather than the big problem itself. I do not deny Apocalyptic belief and logic leads to problems of its own, but we don’t really see this properly demonstrated in these books.

Part of Millennial Seduction is given over to a discussion of the sexual politics of apocalypse. Quinby sees an advocacy of chastity among such people. The main object on display is a dissection of the Promise-Keepers movement. Here, the problem of logic is almost paramount. If you truly believed the world was near its end, wouldn’t the more natural response be promiscuity and a feeling that there will be no lasting consequences and no concern about children you must invest in for the rest of time? Chastity is being advocated more out of a fear of a God who is glaring down at sinful iniquity.

That said, she does make useful insights and her coda on the Waco tragedy in Anti-apocalypse, in particular, is relevant and valid enough to merit attention. Also, I confess that when she moves into a more autobiographical mode of writing I find myself more drawn into her thinking.

In Millennial Seduction, this is when we get her personal reactions to discovering that the author of Revelations had a ‘secretary,’ [my label] named Prochorus who, though generally unknown, is revered in Greek Orthodoxy. She also relates her experiences surrounding her first sky-dive. But such moments are exceptions amid the theoretical bluster. Blessedly, both books are short, so the annoyance factor is at least not compounded by length. -- Reviewed by Martin Kottmeyer, from Magonia Supplement 51, June 2004.


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