Sometimes things come to you in unexpected ways. To me it did. I mean you are not really consciously thinking about them and perchance through some creative exercise you get to meet them. The concept of post-apocalyptic fictions have always been explored but to me the current trends of urbane apocalypse like Walking Dead or even The Last of Us all have this macho or rather this closed form of maleness really talking about. It is like Eliot’s Prufrock not knowing how to answer or propose an engagement or marriage or propose questions. The poem is in a dialogue but I think mostly with the reader as on a Watsonian platform Prufrock cannot communicate with pretty much anyone so there is half fourth wall breaking, half-Doylist way of communication. And it is pretty much this way the lone-man of a urban/urbane post-apocalypse talks to us. Most survivor-protagonists are not women. Except maybe novels like Z for Zachariah (which I think the film’s adaptation and retelling is pretty much butchering the complexities of the novel). Though I did a thesis on postmodernism and post-apocalyptic novels I couldn’t make it large enough to put in this so I decided to put it in now. Women experience the urbane apocalypse a bit differently than guys or rather more accurate female writers experience it a bit differently. A sort of reading on this idea or epiphany of mine comes from Anne Sexton’s poem “Mr Mine” from Love Poems:
Notice how he has numbered the blue veins
in my breast. Moreover there are ten freckles.
Now he goes left. Now he goes right.
He is building a city, a city of flesh.
He’s an industrialist. He has starved in cellars
and, ladies and gentlemen, he’s been broken by iron,
by the blood, by the metal, by the triumphant
iron of his mother’s death. But he begins again.
Now he constructs me. He is consumed by the city.
From the glory of boards he has built me up.
From the wonder of concrete he has molded me.
He has given me six hundred street signs.
The time I was dancing he built a museum.
He built ten blocks when I moved on the bed.
He constructed an overpass when I left.
I gave him flowers and he built an airport.
For traffic lights he handed out red and green
lollipops. Yet in my heart I am go children slow.
For Sexton the relationship is always posited, from what I inferred, in extremes. There is no middle ground and there are too much excess and that is why she decided to show the relevance of the “yellow light” in the traffic signal (which even I as a kid I questioned the existence of). People cannot always be in extremes. The urban apocalypse as a narrative plot device follows mostly an extreme, an outbreak of something and no countermeasure. Eddy Van Vliet’s view of the cityscapes is so different even when juxtaposed with the same view of relationships and love:
The city is covered with places you
took from me. Full of joint
footsteps, full of joint laughs.
They were sheltered by dreams and if need be
love grabbed the gun to protect them.
Tell my legs how to evade
what belonged to them.
Tell them. They refuse to believe
that the theaters have burnt, restaurants
were hit by plagues, terraces vanished
into thin air, hotels closed
the courtyards was demolished.
I bow my head and think
the rain will not hit me. Thus
I shall forget what was taken from me.
It is the degradation of the city not its construction of excess that modulates to Vliet a destruction or destructive force of a relationship. This is a very dichotomized way of reading how a man may view a city and how a woman may view a city. Of course, this varies and you see this in Prufrock who feels that his modernity/modernness may have, like the stars of the skies frigidly there, lost its mysticism, is like a patient etherized on a table ready for some cryptic sort of surgery. Many poets don’t like cities regardless of preferred or biological sex and understandable genders. But this is true that cities may speak to females as a place where there is at times a lurking of danger with the loneliness rather to men which may mostly translate as a lack of communication and then loneliness. That is because cities are many a times constructed by males with less female input. Spaces on many cities, both old and new, cater a lot to the social male disposition. This may be Western or Eastern. Thing about open cafes or cafes of Paris when Parisian writers were writing or also a Victorian sort of phenomenon old “coffee houses.” All these places are computed as macho (nowadays cafes are a shared space) like essentially once even the South Asian tong was. Writing in the open air, or surveying a vast landscape, with both urbane and rustic elements, was the ultimate macho gaze. Elliot’s The Wasteland may be taken very differently by a woman and it was to an extent. When Virginia Woolf wrote Three Guineas she did facilitate this question. This is not a different inherent in the marrow: it is holstered and shaped by cultural transmissions and biases.
Octavio Paz in “I speak of The City” pretty much does the opposite of otherness and develops a shared speech between the male and female concerning the city. The last lines of the poem are:
I speak of the city, shepherd of the centuries, mother that gives
birth to us and devours us, that creates us and forgets.
This is a very androgynous way of looking at the city. Not to mention, the shepherd is always a calm but an emotive individual, he is not the sterile logical man because he deals with living creatures perchance even sentient beings and so acts accordingly. The shepherd is not machismo-man rather if you look at him in classical terms he is a very gentle and kind man. Then Paz puts almost a patriarch or matriarch’s ferocity in the mother, inversing the archetype completely, into something beastial and raging. Not to disrespect mothers essentially but to show the way cities are designed may promote a contradictory language. And in many cases you do see the city-mother in old books rather sterner than the rustic-mother. This may not be her fault at all. Rather she is moved to a place that may not intrinsically provide her safety thus she is on edge. But this lack of safety can be androgynous, hermaphrodactyl and faced by both sexes and all genders. And Paz feeling it. Ending his poem like that certainly can show that.
This brings us back to the urban apocalypse and post apocalypse. Because being a modern man is so seemingly essentially tied with the city a zombie apocalypse or the fall of civilisation as we know it is pretty fearful for men. After civilisation falls they attempt to resurrect the civilisation as they used to know it. There are some novels like John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids that do not work like that. Rather it is anti-civilisation or even suspect of what might happen next in a modernness that makes that novel pretty unique. Not to mention that Brave New World by Aldous Huxley also puts on that civilisation needs revisions sort of template. Also the YA novels like Maze Runner and The Hunger Games also, to a certain extent, makes you question the sort of civilisation. Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy pretty much does the same thing. Jimmy, the protagonist in the first book of that series, Oryx and Crake, shows a very different take on masculinity. Jimmy is already sequestered from the benefits of his civilisation from collapse because he is considered a “luddite” unlike Glen or Crake who is mathematically brilliant. But then in subsequent novels we do see Crake has a bivalent view as well. Crake also questions the merits and tactility of his intelligence. And he envies Jimmy’s qualities which actually alienate him from the machinery of their civilisation. This is a rare account as we see in urban apocalypses man is more centered on his survival in a way that may always be conducive to be best for him. There is no criticism to why a city might have fallen or failed. There is no alternatives to the current city; no search for alterities and this is where the urban apocalypse somewhat fails to even encompass what a man may really want and need.
Mad Max is celebrated possibly because Max is a person who can probably integrate and communicate with different sorts of people. But Max also does not really think he can posit things or that he can discuss things on what people may want or what else they can do to gain what they need after the current civilisation has a crackdown. No one really does much to critique why things might have gotten this bad or why such a failure affected the populations so badly. There is no communes or alternative living systems in most urban apocalyptic dramas. People are limited to survive without what they once had; we are made to believe that is the best possible thing that could have been had has been had. And now there is no other thing to be had. Rather put up the old ways or something or the other. There isn’t any mention of tribal people or anthropological alternatives. People give up way more quickly in those fictions than people in actuality would. In the 100 there is a dichotomy between the people who lived in the space stations and the Grounders and so on and so forth. Yet even so there is coalescence between the modern and the new — all is either primitive or civilised nothing is swept into a critical eye on what can be done. Except in the lesser known urban apocalyptic City of Ember series there is no new concepts of civilisation. City of Ember series is tragically underrated as many works are at times are.
Nature is feared but women do not inherently fear nature. Neither do men. Rather fear is nature is also a colonised site in our recent history. It is as Keats wrote in Lamia that cold hard logic can be at times our undoing. If logic was replaced with some acknowledgment of nature than the Lamia of Keats could have loved her youth as she was and not in guise or relegation of her powers. Cities turning to dust is a machismo fear penetrative only because we have made cities the hub of everyday activity. We have ostracised meadows, fields and many simple pleasures. Many countries are worn-torn for our need to build something urbane so anything akin to peace mitigates.
In Begum Rokeya’s Sultana’s Dream there is an alterity. A city designed differently though due to the constraints and time it was written in, it does put men down for Rokeya herself seen women treated as sub-human due to cultural and patriarchal restrictions. Most female writers write apocalyptic issues alternatively. To them survival is not only the main issue nor is the finding out how to reinstate civilisation as it once was for to them civilisation is not always civilised. They take to nature pretty happily; enjoying freedom of moving about, the feeling of both a ripeness of the sensual and visceral without critique or commercialism. Consumerism cannot really substitute the need for actual physicality. The madwoman in the attic burns down her “civilised” home to feel like she is once more back near the wide sargasso sea.
“ Pine flower’s blooming,” says
a friend on the phone
a hundred miles away.
“Just think of the scent!”
thinking of it,” I say
to myself, facing
a thousand years away.
“Can you imagine
The poem just called “Untitled” by So Chong-Ju is a reflection on posterity but it is not in concrete and steel. Pine scents are a common thing. You have pine scented air fresheners. There is something sturdy about pine that also we wish to be reiterated in memory but the longevity of trees surely many a times surpass the longevity of cities. Masculine and feminine do have their uses but city spaces may or may not feel the need of androgyne understandings and spaces. The unsexed friend and the unsexed future version of the poem’s narrator can feel in a way that is both manly and womanly. Cities may or may not suppress the certain need of community and communication in us. More modern cities are designed to be hubs of commerce and calculations. Suburbia has become residence though even there it is like a colony of afternoon shadows where no one always knows everyone or anyone in particular. It is almost like humans cannot fully live in cities nor in nature and is stuck in transit somewhere.
If cities are gone what other modes of living can be scavenged or even newly founded? Survivor’s anxiety in an urban apocalypse is usually male and White. Usually also Western. We do not see anyone of mixed races or minority races engage with civilisation meltdowns as easily as the Robinson Crusoe of the expedition. Yes, we have Will Smith’s I am Legend yet the original protagonist was not White, not in the novel. If the urban apocalypse was traced in Africa or Asia the majority man would probably reflect the majority anxiety. But not the woman and certainly not indigenous people. To them cityscapes and dams and all urbane artifacts may or may not invade on their homestead. I can imagine a newly immigrated Indian woman from village to a city who is in an urban apocalypse. To her panic would be initial reaction. Then she might thread, find resources, find a roof, fly kites, walk on railway lines and take life as an okay. She would be happy that in the maze and noise of the city with its talked about dangers she would not face any now. Naturally, she would pine for conversation and company and will surely look for others. But community is more important to her than restructuring the old cityscape. And they might make a city of old red-brick chimneys and bare-boned walls and be happy there. A European woman may do the same with wood or glass.
Sometimes the urban apocalypse feels like a cowboy Western or a mob movie of another sort. Lone rangers moving about and attempting to secure something for himself because he is displaced and the city gave him a position. That may be a minimalist reading. Cities can only be owned, at least many modern cities, with an act of homogenization and to do so would mean leaving behind some things; males and females, men and women are at times more complex than that. They want other things.
It would be somewhat cool to see someone like Mad Max just hitching up tent with some old tribe that survived in deserts or jungles and just feel how life could progress like this or life could be changed and shaped with new cityscapes. Or rather it would fun to see Mad Maxine do do.