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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Apocalypse Now and Then Seminar - H.G. Wells and the End of the World in the Twentieth Century

18th October 2010, 17:30, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Dr Simon J James (Durham University)

This is the first seminar in the Apocalypse Now and Then seminar series.

Depictions of apocalypse - understood as revelation and/or the end of the world, in both religious and secular discourses - serve a variety of functions, ranging from the political to the scientific, and the theological to the anthropological. They can reinforce or subvert power structures, interrogate what it is to be human, and figure the future in order to reflect on the present.

This interdisciplinary seminar series brings together experts from a number of disciplines to reflect on two intertwined themes. The first explores the functions served by end-of-world narratives and pictures, that is, it focuses on why apocalyptic stories are told rather than on what particular stories are told. The second analyses the ways in which the apocalyptic is characterized by a relationship with particular sorts of form, language and image, for example, metaphors and fictions, pictures, performances, and poems.

Although declaring himself a pacificist, H. G. Wells possessed an imagination that was nonetheless powerfully attracted to the subject of war. War is the most pronounced symptom of the failure of civilisation, but if civilisation in its present, imperfect, form should be destroyed, such a catastrophe might at least offer the opportunity for a new and better civilisation to be constructed in its place. From his early science fiction romances such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds to his cinematic collaboration with Alexander Korda Things to Come, Wells stages dystopian scenarios in order to inspire humankind towards utopia in reality.  

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