Does an apocalyptic library exist if no one’s around to read it?
There are many different kinds of apocalyptic writing to accommodate, both as standalone texts and in the larger context of apocalyptic thinking. Imagine concentric circles, with each ring more and more removed from a core apocalyptic belief system at its center.
The first ring, then, includes imaginative descriptions of the end times by those who believe the apocalypse is immanent. They have a sincere engagement with what that means to them. An important quality of these writings is that the authors mean to convey a message to other believers or potential believers. These texts often clarify the author’s relationship to the apocalypse in that person’s own words and from within their own socio-historical context, whether or not they are aware of it. Sometimes they take the form of scripture, religious writing, or hymn. In other instances they may appear as a manifesto, screed, or poem. Myth and fable can fit into this category as well. On this site, they will be referred to as SOURCE MATERIAL.
No matter how agnostic your disposition, it is unfair to categorize the texts described above as apocalyptic “fiction” or pop essay. At The Oblivious, we refer to fiction, essay, and other speculative types of apocalyptic writing as CREATIVE WORKS. They may be rooted in the scenarios described by Earth’s religions or devise entirely new circumstances to test humanity. On the ring of creative works, the focus is farther removed, often exploring how people, societies, or other systems react to a force that is unprecedented and cataclysmic.
Taking yet another step back, we move to the ring of COMMENTARY. This is often a nonfiction affair, based in research, theory, journalism, or some other distanced method. These may be writings that help to explain or expand upon ideas that have an apocalyptic coloring. This website, for instance, would probably be considered a contemporary example. These writings, while not necessarily warning of or imagining an apocalyptic event, are worthy of inclusion in our library on account of the context and insight they offer. The cultural phenomena and historic context of the commentary is fascinating to tease apart too!
A couple of quick caveats. Of course, there is some apocalyptic writing that is interstitial, that doesn’t fit nicely into one category. A novel that may first be published as a creative work may later become source material, for example. Finally, if we all accept the argument that any object of cultural or artistic production is a “text” that can be “read,” then we will provide space for the paintings, musical compositions, advertisements, commercial products, and other cultural tchotchkes that say something intriguing about mankind’s relationship to oblivion. The air conditioning fan of a doomsday prepper’s bunker may make just as much noise as the coded messages in an obscure Renaissance oil painting.