One possible collateral benefit of the "everybody dies" narratives about mass destruction, nuclear war and apocalypse, is that a small narrative trick allows the virtual observer to survive—namely, narrative topsight. If everyone dies there is no-one left to tell the story, and this may be the case in some apocalyptic narratives. Still, the narrative allows us, as virtual observers, to watch the apocalypse and to evaluate the consequences: a virtual viewing position which is I suppose a narrative paradox.
These narratives, then, are the ultimate touchstone for narrative retrospection: narratives can retrospect (being structured as they are by a built-in retrospective stance) even when there is no one to do the retrospecting. It is kind of satisfactory, in a way—it places you in the position of the one who survives all the rest, absolute topsight—a narrative delirium.
Still, the disgust may well outweigh the delight, as in fact there are very few narratives of absolute, guaranteed, universal destruction. Mary Shelley's The Last Man leaves us with the last man still living and poised towards the future, and being a limited first-person narrative he doesn't even have the absolute certainty that he is the last man indeed. A satirical spree like Dr Strangelove ends with a gesture of mass destruction, but well, even the rational lunatics who built the atomic arsenals must have had some hope of someone surviving, at least someone in their circle if not themselves. And two of the bleakest recent contributions, The Road (book and film) end on a note of hope, and avoid absolute destruction. So did the film 2012. Abandon any hope of total topsight, all ye, the end is not yet at hand!
Jose Angel Garcia Landa
(An answer to this thread on the Narrative-List by Michael Frank):
a thread on the film-philosophy list-serv has been looking at movies in which, at the end, everybody dies – with some interesting speculation about whether, in such cases, the camera itself might be understood to have the horatio function.
a recent post pointed to On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove as examples of that category of film, and added “In short, any of the anti-nuclear films from the Cold War era that end with mutually assured destruction as the wargamers so thoughtfully labeled it.”
this led me to wonder more generally about the reasons why a narrative might end with the death of everyone and prompted the following post which i suspect raises an interesting narratological issue, so i forward it to this list-serv as well:
this response raises what is – to me at least – the more interesting question, specifically what is the narratological and/or ideological function of the mass mortality . . . in anti-nuke cold war films the purpose is pretty clear, and this purpose entails the deaths of people we have not actually gotten to know in the story/film/play . . . . where characters we HAVE gotten to know are made to die as part of a resolution something radically different is going on . . .