Imagining urban cataclysm

On Thursday and Friday (19th & 20th November) I will be at the World Politics and Popular Culture conference organised by Newcastle University Politics staff Simon Philpott, Matt Davies and Kyle Grayson. The conference will explore the manner in which

popular culture become[s] a series of sites at which political meaning is made, where political contestation takes place and where political orthodoxy is reproduced and challenged

I will be giving a paper entitled Zombies and flesh eaters: imagining urban cataclysm in the era of metropolitanisation.

The paper will discuss the relation between the politics of global urbanisation and representations of urban cataclysm in the film 28 Days Later, video game Resident Evil; and Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. I argue that novels, films and games are textual artefacts embedded in complex assemblages of things, signs, meanings and affects. As such they are mutually imbricated with the dynamics of delineation and contestation we refer to as ‘politics’.

The paper discusses two particular ideas arising from a reading of these texts:

28 Days Later Poster
The Road

  1. On the one hand we can read them as revealing certain anxieties regarding the possible fate of urbanised humanity. These anxieties revolve around fears of the stripping of the supporting infrastructures of contemporary urban life and the abandoning of humanity to consumptive violence (such as the cannibalistic threats faced by the protagonists of all 3 texts).
  2. On the other we can read them as playing a role in the constitution of two important cultural discourses concerning urbanity in the contemporary era. The first is the construction of urbanity as a complex space in which threat can emanate from all directions. This is a discursive trope central to the ideas of urban warfare that have driven American activities in cities such as Fallujah as well as militarised responses to disasters such as Katrina. The second is the privileging of a human protagonists over all else in a manner which perpetuates the anthropocentric notion that survival in the contemporary era rests with humans, not with the city.

With regard to the last point, understanding the complex assemblages of contemporary urbanity will be necessary if there is to be a sustainable urbanity. Such a task requires knowing urban complexity from the point of view of the materials active in its its assemblages as well as from the point of view of the humans who pass through it (temporally and spatially).

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One Response to “Imagining urban cataclysm”

  1. Nate says:

    Interesting. I did not expect you to take this turn!

    You’re probably already aware of it, but this summer I read “Ecology of Fear” by Mike Davis. I thought I’d point you to the second-to-last chapter (I believe), which is about the destruction of L.A. in books and movies. He doesn’t take your focus on infrastructure, and instead argues that the destruction is often driven by racial fears of the loss of white control over the city.

    But I think there will be some ties to your work, because he too sees the disaster-theme as one driven by the insecurities generated by the changing landscape of the city.