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Apocalypse Now: Neoliberalism and Apocalyptic Narratives

Conference website:

Graduate colloquium

English Department, University of Lausanne

22-23 June, 2015 – Lausanne, Switzerland

With the participation of the University of York, and the University of Utrecht


Keynote Speakers:

Christian Arnsperger, University of Lausanne

Adam Kelly, University of York

Organizer: Anas Sareen (



Western culture has a long-standing investment in the apocalyptic. Events such as 9/11, global warming, or the financial crisis of 2008 have directly impacted the way we perceive the world, and the ways in which we conceive of social structures. The recent events in Paris exemplify these apocalyptic interruptions in Western society, which bring issues of freedom of speech and democratic ideals to the fore, and reveal unresolved questions of race, religion, and ethnicity. Similar dynamics exist between the U.S. and North-Korea. After cyber terrorists hacked Sony Pictures in retaliation against the release of the film The Interview, public debates on race, satire, and cyber-terrorism have reanimated tensions between the two countries. The highly publicized hacker group Anonymous demonstrates yet another case of Internet-born geopolitics, though the ambivalence the group evokes does raise questions about our public sentiments towards the placelessness of virtual security. Evidently, the apocalyptic abounds today, and urges us to re-think issues of national identity, economy, and ethics in light of shifting geopolitical configurations. Immersed in such geopolitical shifts, neoliberal capitalism is the silent victor of many an apocalypse.

As established by David Harvey among others, the elusive object that capitalism is resurges with a renewed ideological agenda during the 1970s, particularly under the governments of Thatcher in Britain, and Reagan in the U.S., coalescing into what we now term ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘neoliberal capital’. Evidently, the apocalyptic urges us to consider the geopolitical configurations of national identity, economy, ethics. Neoliberal capitalism and the apocalyptic recently converged in the 2008 financial crisis, a circumstance of speculative excess pushed over the brink and salvaged by American and European government bailouts. Given these ties between neoliberalism and the nation, what might we mean today when we speak of the apocalyptic?

The ambivalence of the term ‘apocalypse’ may be the starting point of this reflection. If the ‘apocalypse’ means both the ‘end of the world’, and a ‘revelation’, then what does the apocalyptic reveal?

This colloquium aims to explore the ways in which the apocalyptic destabilizes social or narrative structures and, in doing so, reveals the constructed nature of both inclusionary and exclusionary modes of being/living. What are the dynamics behind ‘the end’ and behind renewal? What remains? What disappears? How long does an apocalypse last? Questions of temporality invite articulations around issues of questions of gender, sexuality, race, subjectivity, politics, and ethics among many others.

Therefore, we seek contributions that address such critical categories from a number of different locations, objects, and orientations. We invite innovative papers of 20 minutes (followed by 10 min discussion), which explore the apocalyptic/and neoliberal capitalism by engaging in contemporary cultural products.

Topics may include (but are not restricted to) the following:

  • Architecture and dystopia in contemporary film and literature
  • Apocalypse and the nation in contemporary film and literature
  • Apocalypse and the everyday
  • Apocalypse, capitalism, and seriality (TV series, comics)
  • Civil disobedience and/or “epistemic disobedience” (see Walter Mignolo, 2009)
  • Dancing on the edge: dance and capitalism/dance and the apocalyptic
  • De-colonial perspectives on capitalism/the apocalyptic
  • Hi-stories of apocalyptic capitalism from the Global South
  • Interrupted flows: music, capitalism, and the apocalyptic
  • Nuclear families, and alternative modes of belonging, kinship (queer theory, for example Lee Edelman’s No Future, Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim)
  • Posthumanism and capitalism (zombies, cyborgs, animals)
  • ‘Revealing race’ and the geopolitics of the apocalyptic
  • Staging apocalyptic capitalism
  • Social mouvements, and countering neoliberalism (new forms of political activism)
  • Subjectivity and affect under neoliberalism (for example Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism)
  • The narrative architecture of the apocalyptic (the immediate and the aftermath)
  • The political capital of (cyber-) terrorism


Please send abstracts of 300 words, including an author’s bionote,

to by 21 March 2015. Notification of acceptance on 1 Apri l 2015.

Scientific committee:

Catherine Chen (Columbia University), Anna Iatsenko (University of Geneva), and Anas Sareen

(University of Lausanne)




‘Human Herbs’ – a song by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon:

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What are grey vampires and how do they retard the insurrectionary potential of digital  discourse?  How does Derrida’s notion of hauntology contribute to an understanding of dubstep artist Burial?  Is ‘Basic Instinct 2’, routinely derided as a cine-atrocity, a Lacanian reworking of Ballard, Baudrillard and Bataille in service of the creation of a ‘phantasmatic, cybergothic London’?  What is interpassivity and in what ways has it come to define the corporatized incarceration of modern academia?

Over the last decade, Mark Fisher has established a reputation as one of the exhilarating cultural theorists in Britain.  A co-founder of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) at Warwick University ­and described by Simon Reynolds as the academic equivalent of Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz ­ he brings together psychoanalysis, political analysis and speculative fiction to create an extraordinary body of rogue scholarship, a theory-rush with few parallels.

Fisher is the author of ‘Capitalist Realism’, the editor of ‘The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson’ (both Zer0 Books, 2009), and writes regularly for Sight and Sound, Film Quarterly, The Wire and Frieze, as well as maintaining a well-known blog at  He teaches at the University of East London, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the City Literary Institute.

The Colloquium for Unpopular Culture and NYU’s Asian/ Pacific/ American Studies program are pleased to be hosting Fisher’s first talks inAmerica.

See ‘ The Metaphysics of Crackle’, at:


WHEN: Wednesday 4 May 2011, 6:30pm
WHERE: Room 471, 20 Cooper Square [East 5th and Bowery]

”Through their generic and transient qualities ­ workstations devoid of personal effects, relations with colleagues as fleeting as those with passengers on a commuter journey ­ many workplaces now resemble non-places, either literally, as in the case of a hotel, corporate coffee chain or out-of-town supermarket, or symbolically, in the form of temporary assignments for faceless employers (dis)located in anonymous buildings, where the worker-commuter then follows the same global timetables, navigates the same software applications and experiences the same sense of placelessness, the feeling of being mere data in the mainframe.”

So writes Ivor Southwood in his analysis of precarious labour, ‘Non-Stop Inertia’ (2011). In the last decade, the proliferation of corporate non-places has been accompanied by the spread of cyberspace-time, or Itime, a distributed or unpunctuated temporality. It’s no coincidence that, as this unmarked time increasingly came to dominate cultural and psychic space, Derrida’s concept hauntology (re)emerged as the name for a paradoxical zeitgeist.  In ‘Specters of Marx’, Derrida argued that the hauntological was characterised by ‘a time out of joint’, and this broken time has been expressed in cultural objects that return to a wounded or distorted version of the past in flight from a waning sense of the present. Sometimes accused of nostalgia, the most powerful examples of hauntological culture actually show that nostalgia is no longer possible.

In conditions where pastiche has become normalised, the question has to be: nostalgia compared to what? James Bridle has recently argued that ‘the opposite of hauntology … [is] to demand the radically new’, but hauntology in fact operates as a kind of thwarted preservation of such demands in conditions where – for the moment at least – they cannot be met. Whereas cyberspace-time tends towards the generation of cultural moments that are as interchangeable as transnational franchise outlets, hauntology involves the staining of particular places with time – albeit a time that is out of joint. In this lecture, Fisher will explore the hauntological culture of the last few years in relation to the question of place, using examples from music (Burial, The Caretaker, Ekoplekz, Richard Skelton), film (Chris Petit, Patrick Keiller) and fiction (Alan Garner, David Peace).


WHEN: Thursday 5 May 2011, 6:30pm
WHERE: Room 471, 20 Cooper Square [East 5th and Bowery]

”It would be best, perhaps, to think of an alternate world – better to say the alternate world, our alternate world – as one contiguous with ours but without any connections or access to it. Then, from time to time, like a diseased eyeball in which disturbing flashes of light are perceived or like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one, we are reminded that Utopia exists and that other systems, other spaces, are still possible” (Fredric Jameson, ‘Valences of the Dialectic’).

In his 2009 book ‘Capitalist Realism’, Mark Fisher started to explore some of the affective, psychological and political consequences of the deeply entrenched belief that there is no alternative to capitalism. After 1989, capital seemed to enjoy full spectrum dominance of both global space and the unconscious. Every imaginable future was capitalist.  What has been mistaken for post-political apathy, Fisher argued, was a pervasive sense of reflexive impotence in the face of a neoliberal ideological program which sought to subordinate all of culture to the imperatives of business. The subject of post-Fordist capitalism is no passive dupe; this subject actively participates in an ‘interpassive’ corporate culture which solicits our involvement and encourages us to ‘join the debate’.

As Fisher argues in the book, education has been at the forefront of this process, with teachers and lecturers locked into managerialist self-surveillance, and students induced into the role of consumers.

In the eighteen months since ‘Capitalist Realism’ was published, the neoliberal program has been seriously compromised, but capitalist realism has intensified – with austerity programs pushed through on the basis that it is unthinkable that capitalism should be allowed to fail. At the same time, this new, more desperate form of capitalist realism has also faced unexpected challenges from a militancy growing in Europe, the Middle East and even in the heartlands of neoliberalism such as the UK and the US. Now that history has started up again, and Jameson’s ‘baroque sunbursts’ flare brighter than they have for a generation, we can begin to pose questions that had receded into the unimaginable during the high pomp of neoliberal triumphalism: what might a post-capitalism look like,
and how can we get there?

Fisher will argue that the Left will only succeed if it can reclaim modernity from a neoliberal Right that has lost control of it. This entails understanding how the current possibilities for agency are contoured and constrained by the machinery of what Deleuze and Foucault called the Control Society, including cyberspace, the media landscape, psychic pathologies and pharmacology – failures to act are not failures of will, and all the will in the world will not eliminate capitalism. It also entails recognising that neoliberalism’s global hegemony arose from capturing desires which it could not satisfy. A genuinely new Left must be shaped by those desires, and not be lulled, once again, by the logics of failed revolts.



‘I believe in the afterlife.

It starts tomorrow,

When I go to work’

Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Human Herbs’ at: (recording) and (live)

‘Maximum levels of boredom

Disguised as maximum fun’

Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Stagnant’ at: (recording) and (live, at the Belle View pub, Bangor, north Wales)  

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

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From the repurposed rubble of salvagepunk to undead hordes banging on shopping mall doors, from empty waste zones to teeming plagued cities, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse grapples with the apocalyptic fantasies of our collapsing era. Moving through the films, political tendencies, and recurrent crises of late capitalism, Evan Calder Williams paints a black toned portrait of the dream and nightmare images of a global order gone very, very wrong. Situating itself in the defaulting financial markets of the present, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse glances back toward a messy history of zombies, car wrecks, tidal waves, extinction, trash heaps, labour, pandemics, wolves, cannibalism, and general nastiness that populate the underside of our cultural imagination. Every age may dream the end of the world to follow, but these scattered nightmare figures are a skewed refraction of the normal hell of capitalism.

The apocalypse isn’t something that will happen one day: it’s just the slow unveiling of the catastrophe we’ve been living through for centuries. Against any fantasies of progress, return, or reconciliation, Williams launches a loathing critique of the bleak present and offers a graveside smile for our necessary battles to come.

Evan Calder Williams is a writer and theorist. He writes the blog Socialism and/or barbarism. He currently resides in Santa Cruz, California, where he is a doctoral candidate in literature.

Socialism and/or Barbarism:


Book Details:

£14.99 || $24.95
Publishing on:
29 Apr 2011

Yes, another book about zombies and the end of the world. But this is not just another book about zombies and the end of the world. Like one of the junk-suturing recusants whose philosophy he has been central to constructing, Evan Calder Williams builds something rageful and compelling and quite new out of all this fucking wreckage.— China Miéville


‘I believe in the afterlife.

It starts tomorrow,

When I go to work’

Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Human Herbs’ at: (recording) and (live)

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Flow of Ideas:

MySpace Profile:

The Ockress:

Rikowski Point: