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Cultures in Conflict

Religion, History and Gender in Northern Europe c. 1800–2000

Edited By Alexander Maurits, Johannes Ljungberg and Erik Sidenvall

This book includes studies of main conflict areas in modern Western societies where religion has been a central element, ranging from popular movements and narratives of opposition to challenges of religious satire and anti-clerical critique. Special attention is given to matters of politics and gender. With this theme, it provides a useful guide to conflict areas in modern European religious history.

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Franziska Metzger

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Franziska Metzger

The Religious Memory of Crisis. The Example of Apocalyptic Memory in Nineteenth-Century Art and Fiction

Abstract This chapter explores the ways in which memory underpins religious life. Based on a post-structuralist approach of memory studies and a cultural history perspective on religion this chapter examines the role of the perception of crisis in the production and promulgation of religious memory. In particular, the ways in which apocalyptic narrative is used to interpret times of crisis are explored.

Mechanisms of memory are central for the modelling and stabilisation of religious language, of ritual practices and the formation and fostering of religious communities. Based on a post-structuralist approach of memory studies and a cultural history perspective on religion this chapter examines the role of the perception of crisis in the production and promulgation of religious memory.

On the one hand, the chapter is based on a conception of religion as system of meaning production, focusing on religious communication, that is, on discourses, semantics, and the public dimension of religion. On the other hand, it is grounded in a constructivist approach in memory studies in as much as it conceptualises memory as space of selection, not unlike Jacques Derrida’s notion of ‘archive’1 and approaches by representatives of systems theory.2

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Memory as space of selection is already the result of processes of construction and not something ‘neutral’ and ‘given’. Various modes of construction, modelling and usage of memory can be differentiated: narratives (be it in historiography, education, the media or literature); images (art, films, monuments, but also different types of media and publications); and symbolic and ritual practices (religious or not religious).

This conception focuses on the dynamics of the production, transmission and transformation of memory, on situations of communication and on different communities of memory.3 The importance that the following contribution ascribes to the relation of religion and memory is based on the thesis that this complex relation can be regarded as a central mechanism of religious communication.4 In a concrete analysis, I will focus on apocalyptic discourses as discourses of crisis and their dimension of memory.

Religion and Memory

Based on my previous research and conceptualisation in the field of memory and religion, especially on religious narratives of memory,5 I define three modes of religious memory that have to be seen in an entangled relationship: religious language as space of memory, symbolical and ritual practices as memory, and narratives of memory.

First, religious language as space of memory constitutes the fundamental frame for the two other modes. In a semiotic, communication theoretical and discourse analytical perception, language can be regarded as web of possibilities of symbolisation,6 as space of memory of semantics, discourses and images.

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Several modes of linguistic and visual memory can be differentiated: a) the codification and reproduction of discourses related to a religious community and its positioning within different domains of society is a strong producer of multi-layered textures of memory. Historical research on nineteenth-and twentieth-century religious communities has shown that sacralisation of language can be seen as a central mechanism of communication within a religious community and beyond regarding its participation in the public sphere, especially in relation to its position in the competed field of defining the nation.7 b) Intertextuality, that is, the integration of discourses that belong to religious memory into new contexts, also into non-religious discourses, and the appropriation and modification of discourses of other communities of communication by a religious community, makes textures of linguistic and visual memory even more complex, inasmuch as the polyvalence of certain discourses, semantics and images enables their rewriting and transformation. c) The radical questioning and deconstruction of codes of religious language creates a complex self-reflexive relation to instances of the community’s discursive memory.

Second, mechanisms of memory are central to the functioning of symbolical and ritual practices. Religious rites can be conceptualised as ‘techniques of memory’8 making the invisible visible and possible to experience sensually. A relation to transcendence is created through repetition and thus through memorial reproduction. Sacral objects, images and bodies (of Saints, of Christ) can be conceptualised as lieux de mémoire created through their materiality.9

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Third, religious practices produce or are closely linked to narratives and narrative memory. Narratives of memory, including images and staging, consist of layers of memory discourses. This mode has been researched by memory studies and historiography of religion mostly regarding uses of narratives of a religious or very often of a national past.10 Narratives of memory are produced by historiography and history teaching, by literature, film and art, in monuments, sites in nature, the staging of the past in festivities, and by the media. Textures of narratives of memory and their complex structure have to be emphasised: the superposition of different narratives, intertextual relations, as well as the integration of discourses that are not immediately related to memory.

Mechanisms of Detemporalisation and Mythicisation

The narrativist perspective focuses on the functioning of discourses and practices of religious memory; on ritual, symbolic and narrative patterns; icon-ographic strategies and modes of staging.11 A number of mechanisms in the dynamics of devotion and memory seem to be especially interesting: the relation between the visible and invisible, between the present and absent, the past, the future, and the eternal; the relation between the corporeal and the spiritual, sensual and emotional; the creation of sacred spaces and objects and their transformation.

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Based on research by the author on religious memory,12 a number of mechanisms can be systematised: (a) detemporalisation is a central mechanism of religious memory –and also of non-religious memory, as research on national memory construction shows –an effect created a) by the construction of continuity from the past to the present and future, in which retro-projection (especially in narratives) and/or repetition (especially in rites) play a central role; b) by a teleological perspective from the past into the future and into ‘eternity’, which in religious memory is expression of a providential dimension; and c) by the synchronisation of different times (different past times; past, present and future) creating simultaneity (in narratives, paintings, ritual practices).

The creation of presence (b), both temporally and spatially, or in Hans-Georg Soeffner’s words ‘appresentation’13 is a second important mechanism of religious memory –in rites, paintings, monuments, places and spaces, but also in narratives. It relies on repetition, ritualisation, and personalisation, creating immediacy and making transcendence present. We could speak of a mise en scène of the transcendent having at the same time an effect of disembodiment and spiritualisation (somatisation).

Visualisation of the invisible (c) cannot be underestimated as mechanism of religious memory. It fixes the absent past as well as the eternal and transcendent. Visualisation of the invisible is of great importance in the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, of Mary and Saints and their respective iconography, for instance.

A fourth mechanism (d) is related to the dimension of space: the creation of sacred spaces through memory. (Ritual) objects, images, human bodies, bodies of Saints and of Christ, sacralised places, paths of pilgrimage, processions in the public sphere, but in a more abstract sense also narrative spaces are transformed into sacred spaces through memory. They include both created, shaped spaces and ‘natural’ spaces. Sacred spaces can be conceptualised as ‘heterotopia’ in Michel Foucault’s conception, as real, but utterly different spaces, as ‘contestation à la fois mythique et réelle de l’espace où nous vivons’14, inasmuch as they link immanence to transcendence, the past, present and future, creating eternity through memory.15

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Furthermore and across all four mechanisms mythicisation (e) can be described as a central mechanism in the sacralisation of memory in narratives, images and ritual practices. Mythicisation stages transcendence. In a semiotic perception going back to Claude Lévi-Strauss16, myth is principally regarded as language and narration or in Roland Barthes’ terminology as ‘un mode de signification’, a ‘mode of meaning’17. With Hayden White myth can be conceptualised as ‘plot-structure’ and mode of emplotment.18 Mythicisation essentialises history, transforming history into ‘nature’ –as Roland Barthes had put it: ‘Le mythe a pour charge de fonder une intention historique en nature, une contingence en éternité’.19 The concept of ‘mythicisation’ emphasises the dynamic of construction, transmission, reconfiguration and transformation of narratives of memory rather than ‘given’ myths, looking at their functioning, that is, at their deep structures20, their functionalisation and political use by different agents. Mythicisation thus creates broadly connective components of memory, highly polyvalent symbolic particles that can be appropriated and used in different ways, transformed and rewritten.

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All mechanisms reduce contingency, stabilise and essentialise the past, foster difference, form communities as ‘moral’ communities, and legitimise action.21 The reduction of contingency can be seen in the abolition of temporal differences in the superposition of past, present and future. Regarding the analysis of narratives of mythicisation, the actualisation and reuse of ‘old’ narratives, the superposition of different myths, intertextuality and webs of narratives are highly important.

Experience and Memory of Crisis

In a constructivist approach, crises are considered as phenomena of perception by larger parts of a society or by certain communities.22 Ansgar Nünning speaks of ‘the cultural life of catastrophes and crises’, of ‘crisis plots’ and their underlying construction, selection and distinction.23 Feelings of uncertainty regarding the experienced present and fears, anger or helplessness regarding the future are central characteristics of discourses of crisis. They can result in public mobilisation, emotional politics and the construction of enemies.24 In the constructivist line of thought, crises are particularly interesting as phenomena of communication.

With a focus on the language of crisis the entanglement of different narratives and their functionalisation by different agents can be approached. Within this field, analysing the role of uses of memory in the communication of perceived crises is continuative and innovative. Hayden White pointed at the importance of myths in narrativising crisis: ‘Myth explicates situations of social disaster by narrativising them.’25 Based on the thesis that memory both forms the perception of crisis and is formed by perceived crisis, uses of memory are to be analysed in their close relation to experiences and expectations.

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‘When we become “observers” of history, representing the past by telling stories about it, we look for and find in the past just those experiential features we know from our own experience’, David Carr writes in Experience and History.26 The category of experience is used in different disciplines of the humanities with a focus on the individual and/or social dimension.27 A constructivist focus on the cultural constructedness of experience by communicative communities, has however, apart from Reinhart Koselleck,28 rarely been used as fundamental constituent in the field of memory studies.

Based on the thesis that memory both forms the perception of crisis and is itself formed by perceived crisis, different relationships of crisis and narratives of memory –especially through the mechanism of mythicisation –can be distinguished: a) a superposition of crises in experience and memory, that is, the production and use of narratives of memory with regard to elements of remembered crisis in a respective time of perceived crisis, b) uses of elements of memory not related to crisis in times of perceived crisis, and c) the production and promulgation of narratives of memory of crisis in times not perceived as crisis.

Following Reinhart Koselleck, different types of crisis can be defined regarding the mythicisation processes and elements of memory that are mythicised: The perception of 1) unique events as crisis, 2) of longer-lasting situations as crisis and 3) of an inherent, permanent systemic crisis, often leading to fundamentally pessimistic, even apocalyptic visions.29 In the following, I will focus on the dimension of memory in apocalyptic discourses in the nineteenth century in an in-depth analysis of evangelical narratives of crisis in evangelical prophecy fiction and of catholic variations, of the sublime of apocalyptic memory in Romantic art, and of Last Man narratives as discourses of crisis and their use of apocalyptic memory.

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Apocalyptic Discourses as Mode of Construction and Interpretation of Crisis

Apocalyptic discourses in religious communities, as well as in communities defining themselves not predominantly through religion, can be described as modes of construction and interpretation of crisis in society and of the construction of spaces of expectation. Crisis as perception of uncertainty can be imagined, interpreted and mediated apocalyptically, inasmuch as it can be regarded as a symptom of the fulfilment of salvation history.30 In this construction the appropriation, transformation and deconstruction of elements of apocalyptic memory play a central role.

The possibility to communicate about a not experienced radically ‘different’ (catastrophic) event projected into the close or more remote future depends to a high degree on a web of available patterns of interpretation –of memory –which can be reproduced, partially appropriated, transformed, alienated and transmuted into a negative foil for an utterly different narrative. Inventories of apocalyptic memory form a space of possibility in the symbolisation of uncertainties and fear related to the present and future.

Particles of apocalyptic memory underlie the variety of apocalyptic discourses that we can find in political and societal movements, religious communities, art and literature in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.31 The topos of a New Jerusalem, for instance, is a widespread lieu de mémoire far beyond fundamentalist narratives.

I propose four variations of appropriation and transformation of elements of apocalyptic memory: a) the reproduction of integral or large parts of narratives; the appropriation and transformation of single images, symbols and codes that b) are integrated into new frameworks of interpretation; c) the transformation of images, symbols and codes that are carried along and evoked as negative foil; and d) a radicalised transformation as ironic citation of apocalyptic narratives.

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The ‘temporalisation of the future’ (Koselleck) and the dynamisation of inner-worldly conceptions of the future in the decades around 1800 which have fundamentally to be interpreted against the background of changed and changing social and political experiences led to uncertainties and perceptions of crisis regarding the future, new conceptualisations and reinterpretations of society.32 The drifting apart of experiences and expectations, which could not any longer be deduced from former experiences, led not least to apocalyptic interpretations and to the engagement with and fascination for apocalyptic narratives and images with their utterly different conception of temporality and their transcendent spaces of expectation (Erwartungsräume in Reinhart Koselleck’s terminology). Apocalyptic spaces of expectation –in their various formations –can be interpreted as heterotopia.33

Based on the analysis of apocalyptic discourses –narratives, semantics and images –the following discursive dimensions can be formulated. Each of them is to be perceived as a spectrum: a) apocalyptic discourses can –similar to utopian discourse –be described as mode of interpretation based on the construction of difference. Whereas utopian narratives imagine a radically different immanent world, which is mostly transferred into the future and can be more or less displaced, apocalyptic narratives are oriented towards a radically different –catastrophic –immanence and/or transcendence. The dichotomous structure of downfall and resurrection/salvation, of fear and hope are significant in apocalyptic discourses. This is valid also for those transformed variations in which no hope for deliverance is produced, in which the structure of deficiency and abundance is reversed and radically deconstructed. These discourses are also based on the double code of downfall and resurrection. Discourses of the end of the world are discourses of the end of history and of an ‘ultimate future’.34

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b) The dichotomous structure can more or less intensely go along with a manichaean confrontation of revelation and misapprehension, truth and untruth, which –more or less constituted religiously –is oriented towards a final dualism in societal and religious/confessional conflicts or towards the last judgement and divine justice and grace. The manichaean structure is particularly present in radical evangelical and integrist catholic communities of communication which frequently linked it to discourses of conspiracy.35 The manichaean structure substantially accounts for the attractiveness of apocalyptic discourses in (political) communication of fear.

c) The relation of immanence and transcendence, on which the construction of radically different spaces of imagination is based, becomes manifest in the period that we are interested in in this chapter in a complex spectrum. The transcendent dimension remains inscribed as inventory of memory also in cases of radical deconstruction of religious apocalyptic memory. The construction of a radically different inner-worldly condition could be oriented towards renewal and overcoming of crisis, towards revolution, ideas of chosenness of the nation, renewal of humanity, worldly paradise or a totalitarian state. At the same time, it could be oriented towards total destruction and chaos in the narrative of a radically broken (kupierte in the German term36) apocalypse. A state of inner-worldly perfection or dystopia both –at least implicitly –refer to the inventory of memory of immanent redemption. Likewise, the imagination of a transcendent, not immanent space could vary from narrative of fulfilment at the end of all times with more or less strong godly interference to one of (permanent) eternity or of internalised transcendence in a variety of syncretistic mouldings especially in art and therefore in an aesthetisation of transcendence. d) In the relation of immanence and transcendence, the handling of time in the sense of a transformation of temporality into eternity plays a central role.37

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e) A further dimension closely linked to the two aforementioned dimensions is the visualisation of the not visible. This mechanism has to be seen as narrative and visual in-depth dimension in the aesthetic of the apocalypse. Visualisation of the invisible makes present and can be described as ‘appresentation’.38 This mechanism can occur in more or less symbolic, figurative or abstract forms. It can also be found in variations of the deconstruction of ‘classical’ apocalyptic narratives and images. Only in art, apocalypse can not only be made visible and tellable, but also be depicted as already past or reflected as present and continuous experience. This is particularly the case in paintings in which the very moment of the apocalyptic event is ‘shown’ and in novels which are, as Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), narrated from a post-apocalyptic perspective.39 A mechanism of mythicisation of the apocalypse is inherent to the mechanism of appresentation.40

f) Apocalyptic interpretations can –similar to utopian narratives –build more or less explicit frames of reference for individual-or group-oriented action. Following Alexander K. Nagel and other authors, the following forms of apocalyptic pragmatism can be differentiated.41 An interventionist form is based on the faith in the ‘feasibility of salvation’ and the expectation of the temporal proximity of an ultimate reversal. Supporters of this discourse regard themselves as forerunners of salvation history, as ‘agents of the apocalypse’, wherein the complexity of action is reduced through a radically dichotomous worldview. A consultative mode of action is, in contrast, oriented towards reform and the prevention or at least a delay of crisis and catastrophe.42 In a quietist mode of suffering crisis and the final judgement, we can, thirdly, differentiate between the belief in an imminent apocalyptic fulfilment combined with an exclusivist belief in belonging to the small group of the elect, on the one hand, and complete withdrawal in the case of broken, post-apocalyptic positions, on the other hand.43

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Apocalyptic Memory in Evangelical Pre-millenarian Prophecy Fiction and Catholic Alternatives

The pre-millenarian discourse is founded on a linear, progressive salvation historical narrative of a sequence of ‘ages’, the so-called dispensations, having its origin in the early nineteenth century. The period of the anti-Christ and apocalyptic sufferance are regarded as necessary dystopian conditions previous to the return of Christ and the reign of a thousand years with the New Jerusalem as preliminary stage of the reign of Christ. The construction of a spiritual community of chosen people is paramount in the self-understanding of pre-millenarian evangelicals. The narrative frame of the evangelical so-called Prophecy Fiction especially of the English-speaking countries with its greatest spread around 1900 is marked by the deterministic, holistic horizon of pre-millenarian discourses.44 Regarding the turn of the century around 1900, we can detect a superposition of two closely linked discursive spaces of memory: the biblical and the pre-millenarian dispensationalist discourse based on the biblical discourse.

Joseph Crompton Ricket’s novel The Christ that is to be,45 published in 1891, playing in the twenty-first century, and Sydney Watson’s trilogy In the Twinkling of an Eye, The Mark of the Beast, Scarlet and Purple, published between 1904 and 1913, belonged to the most popular novels of the genre.46

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Through the inscription of John’s Apocalypse into the present and near future, in Ricket’s novel the transcendent is extended into the immanent until it is displaced into the other world. The immediate inner-worldly pragmatism of this novel consists of a moral reversal of Great Britain projected into the twenty-first century. This reversal is the precondition for the transformation of apocalyptic London into a New Jerusalem –the heterotopia of this narrative par excellence. In line with evangelical political discourses in Victorian England, London is projected as the chosen city: ‘From London, as from Jerusalem of old, messengers would be sent into all the world to exhort to repentance and to proclaim the coming of the King.’47 At the end of the novel, Christ’s parousia is imminent; however, the apocalyptic climax is, as Axel Stähler has put it, ‘indefinitely deferred’.48

The daylight fades; the stars creep into the sky, the great city lowers its voice, trims its lamp, like a wise virgin, and watches heaven for the coming of its Lord. We listen, and seem to hear through the open window the distant sound of His wheels. The curtains are about to part, the dead will crowd upon our sight, and heaven will descend upon our sorely tried Earth.49

If we compare the apocalyptic novel Lord of the World by the catholic author Robert Hugh Benson published in 1907 with the evangelical narratives, we can detect a more symbolic-metaphoric, ritualised ‘appresentation’ of transcendence and a more universalising and integrative discourse with a stronger detemporalisation.50 This can be shown with regard to the novel’s ending: this world and the kingdom to come are intertwined spatially and temporally in the sacrament of the eucharist. The eschatological event is materialised and textually staged in the object of the monstrance. Detemporalisation and spatial appresentation ritualise the sacral event of the eucharist. The apocalyptic expectation is transferred into the immanent presence as potentially eternally repeated transubstantiation.

He turned to the altar again, and there, as he had known it would be, in the midst of clear light, all was at peace: the celebrant, seen as through molten glass, adored as He murmured the mystery of the World-made-Flesh, and once more passing to the centre, sank upon his knees. […] thought was no longer the process of a mind, rather it was the glance of a spirit. He knew all now; and by an inevitable impulse, his throat began to sing aloud words that, as he sang, opened for the first time as flowers telling their secret to the sun. O Salutaris Hostia Qui coeli pandis ostium...51

The connection between immanence and transcendence is –at the very end of the book –moreover permuted in a divine apparition:

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[...] and across the space, moved now the six flames, steady as if cut of steel in that stupendous poise of heaven and earth; and in their centre the silver-rayed glory and the Whiteness of God made Man… [...] Then, with a roar, came the thunder again, pealing in circle beyond circle of those tremendous Presences –Thrones and Powers –who, themselves to the world as substance to shadow, are but shadows again beneath the apex and within the ring of Absolute Deity... The thunder broke loose, shaking the earth that now cringed on the quivering edge of dissolution...52

Contrary to the elliptic end in Watson’s The Mark of the Beast ‘ “Finis?” No! Waiting!’,53 in which the second coming is transferred into yet a further future and therefore external to the novel’s time frame, Benson concludes his novel with the apocalyptic finale ‘Then this world passed, and the glory of it.’54

The Sublime Apocalypse in Art

Reflexions on the sublime and the staging of the apocalypse as sublime were marked by artists of Romanticism around 1800 and the early nineteenth century, especially under the influence of William Turner, and had a long-lasting influence throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. In his essay ‘A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin or our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful’ published shortly after the earthquake of Lisbon in 1756, the English philosopher and writer Edmund Burke formulated fundamental reflexions on the sublime:

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, the danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.55

The concept of the sublime can be detected in paintings of otherworldly marvelousness as well as in such of destruction and ultimate darkness. The sublime is created through narrative and visual distance, enabling the presentation of aesthetic delight. The depiction of apocalyptic destruction became popular visual spectacles.

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The frequently monumental paintings on apocalyptic narratives –on the deluge, the last judgement, the wrath of God and others –show the ultimate catastrophe in its excessive horror expressing especially the entanglement of immanence and transcendence, the coalescence of spaces and the sublime of the transcendent sphere as heterotopia. Light effects are central for this entanglement. In Britain, paintings by William Turner –especially The Deluge (1805) –, Francis Danby –also The Deluge (1840) –and John Martin are of special importance. Martin created monumental paintings on the apocalypse such as The Great Day of His Wrath (1851–1853), The Last Judgment (1853) and The Opening of the Seventh Seal (1837) that together constitute the triptych The Last Judgment.56 Martin’s paintings were in line with millenarian thoughts that were popular in Britain beyond evangelicalism. The long continuity of the sublime apocalyptic in art can be illustrated with the example of Albert Goodwin’s painting Apocalypse of 1903.

Fig. 1: William Turner, The Deluge, 1805, Tate Britain, London

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Fig. 2: John Martin, The Great Day of His Wrath, 1851–1853, Tate Britain, London

Fig. 3: Albert Goodwin, Apocalypse, 1903, private collection

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William Turner’s Death on a Pale Horse (1825–1830) differs from the paintings mentioned above as it transforms the sublime into a symbolic apocalypse. It presents not so much grand scenes of destruction, but rather symbolic figures and spaces: the last apocalyptic horseman who announces the last judgement. Death does not appear as triumphant figure, but as phantom in the fog.

Fig. 4: William Turner, Death on a Pale Horse, 1825–1830, Tate Britain, London

The Narrative of the Last Man as (Broken) Apocalypse

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Inwardness, reflexion and symbolism can be interpreted as equally important in narratives of a godforsaken world in broken apocalypse, which came powerfully to the fore in the topos of the last man on earth. The pivotal example of the Last Man narrative is Jean Paul’s Rede des toten Christus vom Weltgebäude herab, dass kein Gott sei (1796; Speech of the dead Christ from the Universe that there is no God), a dream satire described by Paul as thought experiment.57 In this text, the author radically deconstructs any expectation of a ‘classical’ apocalypse: the apocalypse takes place without a last judgement, man finds himself in a vacuous cosmos without a divine creator and judge. The cosmos as well as the eschatological frame of interpretation with its expectation of salvation are void.

Wie ist jeder so allein in der weiten Leichengruft des All! [...] O Vater! O Vater! Wo ist deine unendliche Brust, dass ich an ihr ruhe? –Ach, wenn jedes Ich sein eigner Vater und Schöpfer ist, warum kann es nicht auch sein eigner Würgengel sein?58

The Last Man is a figure of radical loneliness looking at the end of the world without God and divine justice. Probably the most famous painting that influenced the topos of the Last Man is Caspar David Friedrich’s Der Mönch am Meer (1808–1810). Two contemporaries, Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim, commented the painting in the following words:

Nichts kann trauriger und unbehaglicher sein, als diese Stellung in der Welt: der einzige Lebensfunke im weiten Reiche des Todes, der einsame Mittelpunkt im einsamen Kreis. Das Bild liegt, mit seinen zwei oder drei geheimnisvollen Gegenständen, wie die Apokalypse da [...], und da es, in seiner Einförmigkeit und Uferlosigkeit, nichts, als den Rahm(en), zum Vordergrund hat, so ist es, wenn man es betrachtet, als ob einem die Augenlieder weggeschnitten wären [...].59

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The Last Man narratives focused and still focus, if we think of apocalyptic movies, on natural catastrophes, on the relationship of nature and salvation history, natural and moral catastrophe. Thus, for example, Lord Byron wrote in the ‘year without summer’ 1816 in his poem Darkness about the last catastrophe of humanity which would end up in an absolute de-humanisation.60 All salvation historical and rational constructions of meaning were deconstructed. Mary Shelley’s novel The Last Man published in 1826, which plays at the end of the first century of the third millennium, negates in an equally radical way a redeeming God, uncoupling man from nature: nature persists with all its beauty and does not need man –a transformed version of the dominant Last Man narrative.

I [the last man as narrator, F.M.] lifted up my eyes –a bat wheeled round –the sun had sunk behind the jagged line of mountains, and the pale, crescent moon was visible, silver white, amidst the orange sunset, and accompanied by one bright star, prolonged thus the twilight. A herd of cattle passed along in the dell below untended, towards their watering place –the grass was rustled by a gentle breeze, and the olive-woods, mellowed into soft masses by the moonlight [...] Yes this is the earth [...] she continues to wheel round and round, with alternate night and day, through the sky, though man is not her adorner or inhabitant.61

The deconstruction of memory of apocalyptic discourses of salvation through the usage of images and partial narratives of ‘classical’ apocalypse is a central characteristic of the reflexion of crisis in Last Man narratives, which on their part quickly turned into nettings of narratives, images and metaphors, into inventories of memory regarding the end of the world as (mostly) depleted of any expectation of salvation.62

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1Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive, Paris 1995.

2Cf. Niklas Luhmann, Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt a.M. 1997; Elena Esposito, Soziales Vergessen: Formen und Medien des Gedächtnisses der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt a.M. 2002. Cf. also Moritz Csáky, ‘Die Mehrdeutigkeit von Gedächtnis und Erinnerung: Ein kritischer Beitrag zur historischen Gedächtnisforschung’, in Digitales Handbuch zur Geschichte und Kultur Russlands und Osteuropas, Vol. 9, 2004. The approach differs from the conception that dichotomises between memory as ‘storage’ and ‘functional memory’ proposed by Aleida Assmann: Aleida Assmann, ‘Funktionsgedächtnis und Speichergedächtnis –zwei Modi der Erinnerung’, in Kristin Platt & Mihran Dabag (eds), Generation und Gedächtnis: Erinnerungen und kollektive Identitäten, Opladen 1995, pp. 169–185.

3Cf. Dimiter Daphinoff & Franziska Metzger, ‘Einleitung’, in Dimiter Daphinoff & Franziska Metzger (eds), Ausdehnung der Zeit: Die Gestaltung von Erinnerungsraumen in Geschichte, Literatur und Kunst, Wien, Köln, Weimar 2019, pp. 7–15; Franziska Metzger, Geschichtsschreibung und Geschichtsdenken im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Bern, Stuttgart & Wien 2011; Gregor Feindt, Félix Krawatzek et al., ‘Entangled Memory: Toward a Third Wave in Memory Studies’ in History and Theory 53 (2014), pp. 24–44; Gregor Feindt, Félix Krawatzek et al., ‘Europäische Erinnerung? Erinnerungsforschung jenseits der Nation’, in Gregor Feindt, Félix Krawatzek et al., (eds) Europäische Erinnerung als verflochtene Erinnerung: Vielstimmige und vielschichtige Vergangenheitsdeutungen jenseits der Nation, Göttingen 2014, pp. 11–36.

4For a systematisation, cf. Franziska Metzger, ‘Devotion and Memory –Discourses and Practices’, in Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History 31/2 (2018).

5Franziska Metzger, Religion, Geschichte, Nation: Katholische Geschichtsschreibung in der Schweiz im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert –kommunikationstheoretische Perspektiven, Stuttgart 2010.

6Cf. Franziska Metzger, ‘Apokalyptische Diskurse als Gedächtnis-und Erwartungsräume in der Sattelzeit um 1900’, in Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Religions-und Kulturgeschichte 110 (2016), pp. 23–51; Christian Zolles, ‘Die symbolische Macht der Apokalypse’, in Veronika Wieser, Christian Zolles et al. (eds), Abendländische Apokalyptik: Kompendium zur Genealogie der Endzeit, Wien 2013, pp. 125–155.

7Cf. Friedrich Wilhelm Graf & Klaus Große Kracht, ‘Einleitung’, in Friedrich Wilhelm Graf & Klaus Große Kracht (eds), Religion und Gesellschaft: Europa im 20. Jahrhundert, Köln 2007, pp. 1–41; Franziska Metzger, ‘Zwischen Sakralisierung und Entfremdung –zu Transformationen der Sprache des Katholizismus’, in Wilhelm Damberg & Karl-Joseph Hummel (eds), Katholizismus in Deutschland, Paderborn 2015, pp. 93–111; David Luginbühl, Franziska Metzger et al. (eds), Religiöse Grenzziehungen im öffentlichen Raum –Mechanismen und Strategien von Inklusion und Exklusion im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart 2012.

8Thomas Macho, Das zeremonielle Tier: Rituale –Feste –Zeiten zwischen den Zeiten, Graz 2004.

9Cf. the contributions in Franizska Metzger & Stefan Tertünte (eds), Sacred Heart Devotion: Memory, Body, Image, Text –Continuities and Discontinuities, Wien, Köln, Weimar 2021.

10Cf. the contributions in Heinz-Gerhard Haupt & Dieter Langewiesche (eds), Nation und Religion in Europa: Mehrkonfessionelle Gesellschaften im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt a.M. 2004; Kerstin Armborst-Weihs & Stefanie Wiehl (eds), Geschichtsschreibung und Geschichtsbewusstsein zwischen religiöser und konfessioneller Toleranz und Identitätsfindung, Göttingen 2010; Urs Altermatt & Franziska Metzger (eds), Religion und Nation: Katholizismus im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart 2007; Metzger 2010.

11Michel Foucault, L’Archéologie du savoir, Paris 1969.

12Metzger 2010; Metzger 2016.

13Hans-Georg Soeffner, ‘Protosoziologische Überlegungen zur Soziologie des Symbols und des Rituals’, in Rudolf Schlögl, Bernhard Giesen & Jürgen Osterhammel (eds), Die Wirklichkeit der Symbole: Grundlagen der Kommunikation in historischen und gegenwärtigen Gesellschaften, Konstanz 2004, pp. 41–72; Hans-Georg Soeffner, Symbolische Formung: Zur Soziologie des Symbols und des Rituals, Weilerswist 2010.

14As ‘mythic and at the same time real contestation of the space we live in.’ Michel Foucault, ‘Des espaces autres’ (1967/1984). Michel Foucault, Dits et écrits, Vol. 4. Paris 1994, pp. 752–762, 756 (translation by the author). Cf. Michail M. Bachtin, Chronotopos, Frankfurt a.M. 2008 (in Russian: 1937/38).

15Cf. Dimiter Daphinoff, ‘Sakraler Raum, Erinnerungsraum und das Ringen um Deutungshoheit: T.S. Eliots Murder in the Cathedral und G.B. Shaws Saint Joan’, pp. 121–132; Jürgen Mohn, ‘Inszenierte Sinnsysteme –Gärten als Heterotopien in der europäischen Religionsgeschichte’, pp. 55–87; Joachim Valentin, ‘Spiegel, Reisen, Klänge: Jim Jarmuschs Filme eröffnen Räume jenseits der Alltagsrealität’, pp. 133–146; Franziska Metzger, ‘Apokalyptische Erwartungs-und Erinnerungsräume als narrative und visuelle Heterotopien’, pp. 147–168; Elke Pahud de Mortanges, ‘ “Be a somebody with a body”: Christus-Heterotopien in Kunst und Kommerz des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts am Beispiel von Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys und Conchita Wurst’, pp. 223–245, all in: Franziska Metzger & Elke Pahud de Mortanges (eds), Orte und Räume des Religiösen im 19.–21. Jahrhundert, Paderborn 2016.

16Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘The Structural Study of Myth’, in The Journal of American Folklore 68 (1955), pp. 428–444; Claude Lévi-Strauss, Myth and Meaning, London 1978. For narrativist approaches in recent years: Chiara Bottici & Benoît Challand (eds), Myth, Memory, and Identity, Cambridge 2013; Laura Cruz & Willem Frijhoff (eds), Myth in History, History in Myth, Leiden & Boston 2009; Silvio Vietta & Herbert Uerlings (eds), Moderne und Mythos, München 2006; Stephanie Wodianka & Dietmar Rieger (eds), Mythosaktualisierungen: Tradierungs-und Generierungspotentiale einer alten Erinnerungsform, Berlin & New York 2006.

17Roland Bartes, Mythologies, Paris 1957.

18Hayden White, ‘Catastrophe, Communal Memory and Mythic Discourse: The Uses of Myth in the Reconstruction of Society’, in Bo Stråth (ed.), Myth and Memory in the Construction of Society, Brussels 2000, pp. 49–74, 51: ‘Myth emplots stories about specific actions and sets of events.’ Cf. Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, Baltimore 1978.

19‘The myth has the task of founding a historical intention on nature, contingency on eternity.’ Barthes 1957, p. 216 (translation by the author).

20Cf. Michel Foucault’s ‘regularity’, Foucault 1969.

21Cf. Ansgar Nünning, ‘Making Crises and Catastrophes –How Metaphors and Narratives Shape the Cultural Life’ in Carsten Meiner & Kristin Veel (eds), The Cultural Life of Catastrophes and Crises, Berlin 2012, pp. 59–88, 71.

22Cf. Reinhart Koselleck, ‘Einige Fragen an die Begriffsgeschichte von Krise’, in Reinhart Koselleck, Begriffsgeschichten, Frankfurt a.M. 2006, pp. 203–217; Uta Fenske, Walburga Hülk & Gregor Schuhen (eds), Krise als Erzählung: Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf ein Narrativ der Moderne, Bielefeld 2013; Thomas Mergel (ed.), Krisen verstehen: Historische und kulturwissenschaftliche Annäherungen, Frankfurt a.M. 2012.

23Nünning 2012.

24Cf. Bill Niven & Chloe Paver, Memorialization in Germany since 1945, Basingstoke 2010.

25White 2000, p. 52.

26David Carr, Experience and History: Phenomenological Perspectives on the Historical World, New York 2014, p. 71.

27Clifford Geertz, ‘Making Experience, Authoring Selves’, in Victor Turner & Edward Bruner (eds), The Anthropology of Experience, Champaign 1986.

28Reinhart Koselleck, ‘ “Erfahrungsraum” und “Erwartungshorizont” –zwei historische Kategorien’, in Reinhart Koselleck Vergangene Zukunft: Zur Semantik geschichtlicher Zeiten, Frankfurt a.M. 1979, pp. 349–375.

29Cf. Koselleck 2006. Similar, using the concept of liminality: Bjorn Thomassen, Liminality and the Modern: Living Through the In-Between, New York 2014, pp. 90–92.

30See for the most recent cultural historical research: Veronika Wieser, Christian Zolles, Catherine Feik et al. (eds), Abendländische Apokalyptik: Kompendium zur Genealogie der Endzeit, Wien 2013; Johannes Fried, Dies Irae: Eine Geschichte des Weltuntergangs, München 2016; the contributions in the dossier ‘Räume apokalyptischen Denkens’ of the Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Religions-und Kulturgeschichte 2016; Alexander Kenneth Nagel, Bernd U. Schipper & Ansgar Weymann (eds), Apokalypse: Zur Soziologie und Geschichte religiöser Krisenrhetorik, Frankfurt a.M. & New York 2008; Bernd U. Schipper & Georg Plasger (eds), Apokalyptik und kein Ende, Göttingen 2007.

31Cf. Metzger 2016.

32Cf. Koselleck 2006; Lucian Hölscher, ‘Religiöse Begriffe im Widerspruch.’, in Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Religions-und Kulturgeschichte 107 (2013), pp. 367–387.

33Foucault 1967/1984, p. 756.

34Eva Horn, Zukunft als Katastrophe, Frankfurt a.M. 2014, p. 101.

35Cf., for example, the intransigent catholic antirevolutionary discourses: Javier Fernández Sebastián, ‘ “Riding the Devil’s Steed”: Politics and Historical Acceleration in an Age of Revolutions’, in Javier Fernández Sebastián (ed.), Political Concepts and Time: New Approaches to Conceptual History, Santander 2011, pp. 369–398; David Luginbühl, ‘ “Christenthum” oder “Nichtchristenthum”. Zur Konstruktion von Differenz in der katholischen Erneuerungsbewegung vor 1847’, in David Luginbühl, Franziska Metzger et al. (eds), Religiöse Grenzziehungen im öffentlichen Raum –Mechanismen und Strategien von Inklusion und Exklusion im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Stuttgart 2012, pp. 179–199.

36For this term cf. Dietmar Kamper, ‘Die kupierte Apokalypse: Eschatologie und Posthistorie’, in Ästhetik und Kommunikation 60 (1985): pp. 83–90; Klaus Vondung, Die Apokalypse in Deutschland, München 1988.

37Cf. Walter Sparn, ‘Chiliastische Hoffnungen und apokalyptische Ängste: Das abendländische Erbe im neuen Jahrtausend’, in Bernd U. Schipper & Georg Plasger (eds), Apokalyptik und kein Ende, Göttingen 2007, pp. 207–228, esp. p. 211.

38Soeffner 2004, esp. pp. 48–50.

39Cf. the focus on literature and art in: Veronika Wieser, Christian Zolles et al. (eds) 2013; Judith Schössöck, Letzte Menschen: Postapokalyptische Narrative und Identitäten in der Neueren Literatur nach 1945, Bochum & Freiburg i. Br. 2012.

40Cf. Barthes 1957, p. 202.

41Cf. Alexander Kenneth Nagel, ‘ “Siehe, ich mache alles neu?”. Apokalyptik und sozialer Wandel’, in Bernd U. Schipper & Georg Plasger (eds), Apokalyptik und kein Ende, Göttingen 2007, pp. 253–272, 264.

42Cf. Maren Lickhardt & Niels Werber, ‘Pest, Atomkrieg, Klimawandel − Apokalypse-Visionen und Krisen-Stimmungen’, in Uta Fenske, Walburga Hülk & Gregor Schuhen (eds), Die Krise als Erzählung: Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf ein Narrativ der Moderne, Bielefeld 2013, pp. 345–357.

43Cf. Nagel 2007, p. 264.

44Cf. on Prophecy Fiction: Crawford Gribben, Writing the Rapture: Prophecy Fiction in Evangelical America, New York 2009.

45The novel was published shortly after Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000–1887 (1888) and William Morris News from Nowhere, in The Commonweal 1890.

46Cf. also: Axel Stähler, ‘Apocalyptic Visions and Utopian Spaces in Late Victorian and Edwardian Prophecy Fiction’, in Utopian Studies 23 (2012), pp. 162–211.

47Joseph Crompton Rickett, The Christ that is to be, London 1891, p. 106 (the persona Alpha is speaking).

48Stähler 2012, p. 170.

49Rickett 1891, p. 279.

50On the reception of Benson’s novel cf. Paul Airiau, ‘L’impossible Apocalypse: Le Catholicisme français au prisme du Maître de la terre de Robert Hugh Benson (1908–1909) ’, in Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Religions-und Kulturgeschichte 110 (2016), pp. 125–141.

51Hugh Benson, Lord of the World, London 1907, p. 243.

52Benson 1907, pp. 244–245.

53Sydney Watson, The Mark of the Beast, New York 1915, p. 245.

54Benson 1907, p. 245.

55Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, London 1757, p. 47.

56On John Martin cf: Martin Myrone, ‘John Martin’s Last Judgement Triptych: The Apocalyptic Sublime in the Age of Spectacle’, in Nigel Llewellyn & Christine Riding (eds), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/RESOURCE-TITLE-r1109, accessed 21 April 2020; Martin Myrone, John Martin: Apocalypse, Ausstellungskatalg der Tate Britain, London 2011.

57Cf. on Jean Paul: Horn 2014, pp. 51–53.

58‘How alone everyone is in the wide tomb of the universe! [...] O Father, O Father! where is thy infinite breast, upon which I might rest? –Alas, if each I is its own father and creator, why can it not also be its own avenging angel?’ Jean Paul, Rede des toten Christus vom Weltgebäude herab, dass kein Gott sei (1796), published in Deutsche Nationalliteratur, Joseph Kürschner (ed.), vol. 131: Jean Pauls Werke II, Berlin & Stuttgart 1884, pp. 427–433, here p. 431 (translation by the author).

59‘Nothing can be more tragic and discomforting than this position in the world: the only life left in the wide sphere of death, the lonely centre in the lonely sphere. The painting lies there with its two or three mysterious objects like the apocalypse [...], and as with its uniformity and shorelessness it has no foreground but the frame, the beholder feels as if his eyelids were cut off.’ Clemens Brentano & Achim von Arnim, ‘Verschiedene Empfindungen vor einer Seelandschaft von Friedrich, worauf ein Kapuziner’, in Iris: Unterhaltungsblatt für Freunde des Schönen und Nützlichen 20 (28 January 1826) pp. 77–78, published in: Kommentierte digitale Edition von Jochen A. Bär (Quellen zur Literatur-und Kunstreflexion des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts, Reihe A, Nr. 1645), Vechta 2014 (translation by the author).

60George Gordon Byron, ‘Darkness’, in Jerome J. McGann (ed.), The Complete Poetical Works, vol. 4, Oxford 1986, pp. 40–42.

61Mary Shelley, The Last Man, London 1826, pp. 456–457.

62Cf. contemporary novels and movies such as Cormach McCarthy’s The Road (2006 as book, 2009 as movie). On The Road cf. among others: Kristijan Mavri, ‘Cormac McCarthy’s The Road Revisited: Memory and Language in Post-Apocalyptic Fiction’, in Politics of Memory 3 (2013), pp. 1–14.