Imagining the End Times: Ideology, the Contemporary Disaster Movie, Contagion



It has recently become something of a cliché, at least on the Left, to cite the claim, first made by Fredric Jameson in Seeds of Time (1994), that in the current conjuncture it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. “Someone once said,” Jameson writes in “Future City” (2003), where he recapitulates and revises the point, and where it becomes apparent that he is probably misremembering some comments made by H. Bruce Franklin about J. G. Ballard, “that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”1


Capitalist Realism Ground Zero Political Imagination Future City Opening Scene 
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  1. 1.
    See Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), xii; and “Future City,” New Left Review 21 (May/June 2003), 76. The original association of the end of capitalism and the end of the world, where the claim made is rather different, is to be found in H. Bruce Franklin, “What Are We to Make of J. G. Ballard’s Apocalypse?” There, Franklin accuses Ballard of “mistaking the end of capitalism for the end of the world”; and asks in conclusion, “What could Ballard create if he were able to envision the end of capitalism as not the end, but the beginning, of a human world?” Scholar
  2. 2.
    Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (Winchester: Zero Books, 2009), 1. Note that so often is Žižek cited in connection with this dictum that some ill-informed commentators even ascribe it to him: “One of Žižek’s best known sound-bytes [sic] of a few years ago,” writes Duncan Simpson in an online review of Living in the End Times (2010), “was that today it was easier to imagine the end of the world rather than an end to capitalism.” Scholar
  3. 3.
    Roland Barthes, “Myth Today,” in Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (London: Vintage, 1993), 141, 129.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicolson-Smith (New York: Zone, 1995), 15.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010), 329. If this dream is ideological, in the old-fashioned sense of promoting the class interests of the bourgeoisie, then in some recent science-fiction films and novels it also encodes a Utopian impulse. In a review of Margaret Atwood’s After the Flood (2009), Jameson notes that the lethal, man-made plague invoked by the book’s title, like the Biblical Flood, “fulfills its purpose, namely to cleanse the world of the toxic garbage of human society, leaving the few survivors (mostly people trapped in inaccessible and thereby uncontaminated spaces) to start something new.” See “Then You Are Them,” London Review of Books 31:17(10 September 2009), 7–8.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Slavoj Žižek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (London: Verso, 2012), 77.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 159.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (London: Fontana, 1992), 248.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    David Quammen, Spillover: Animal Infection and the Next Human Pandemic (New York: Norton, 2012), 168.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    See Mike Davis, The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (New York: The New Press, 2005), 42. Davis offers a characteristically sharp and informative polemical account of the politics and economics, as well as the science, of contemporary pandemics.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, trans. Geoffrey Wall (London: Routledge, 1978), 87.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    Fredric Jameson, “Conspiracy as Totality,” The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (London: BFI, 1995), 32.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    See, for instance, Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 73.Google Scholar

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© Matthew Flisfeder and Louis-Paul Willis 2014

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