Postmodernity and the Imagination
of the Apocalypse:
A Study of Genre

Copyright © 1994 Marc Fonda. All rights reserved.

When some people speak of our era as one that suffers the malaise of philosophical uncertainty causing a sense of urgency,0 such people speak of a time that is ripe for change. For human beings have a tendency to want to reduce the tension and anxiety caused by uncertain and anxious situations as quickly as possible. Obviously, there is a range of possible responses to situations of increased tension. Most often the reduction of excessive stimulation appears in small, localized, and relatively uneventful reactions. However, the human drive to reduce anxiety also surfaces in dramatic and revolutionary ways: intellectual revolutions, on the one hand, and millennial movements, on the other.

In this paper I propose to examine the uncertain postmodern1 situation as it is illuminated by western culture's propensity to make myths about end times. I suggest that because it allows for no certain ground for speculation about a comprehensive world view, the postmodern perspective reflects a millennial-styled deliberation about the end of the present order of existence and the emergence of another. I submit it is our predilection to make myths, to imagine our world in mythic themes, understood to operate in tandem with the undergirding apocalyptic character of the western ethos and the impending expiration of the second millennium that makes it imperative to investigate how the contemporary West reveals its attitudes toward the world.

In the following pages, I will take you on an ideational excursion into the history of ideas, mythology and literary criticism. This odyssey disembarks by contrasting Richard Tarnas' characterization of the postmodern genre with the necessary preconditions for millennialism as provided by Michael Barkun. We then will consider the prevalence of the preconditions of apocalypticism in North America since the 1960's. Finally, this will be followed by a brief side-trip with Robert Brockway into the mythic roots of apocalyptic thought as found in ancient Sumeria and ancient Israel and their implications for the contemporary world.

The Postmodern Apocalypse:

I would like to begin by outlining several characteristics common to both millennial movements and postmodern thought. In general terms, both anticipate the role of a crisis or disaster as something that upsets the usual order of things and instigates change. Furthermore, both conclude that the traditional means of explaining the world are no longer adequate. Both also provide a new, revivalistic vision of the world; and, finally, people of both the postmodern and apocalyptic ilk suffer from a specific degree of angst caused by the recognition of impending doom of civilization as they know it.

In The Passion of the Western Mind Richard Tarnas characterizes the postmodern condition as one that is "subversive of all paradigms."2 He explains that we can find at the core of postmodernity's style of criticism the awareness that reality is "at once multiple, local and temporal, and without demonstrable foundation."3 Because we now understand reality as consisting of a multitude of dimensions that are all constructs of human symbol using and imaginative inclinations, we can no longer sustain any grand cosmological theories without producing "empirical and intellectual authoritarianism."4 The literalism of modernity is now being rejected as too narrow a perspective from which we can survey our ideational landscapes.

One consequence of the such relativization of all thought is that we can no longer theorize without being suspicious of our complicity in reaffirming traditional world views that institutionalize and codify our selves. Furthermore, we live in no small modicum of fear over such accusations as racism, sexism, heterosexism, parochialism, elitism, and of being politically incorrect. This is to say that we live in a state of intellectual uncertainty, and this brings with it a strong sense of urgency.

Yet, as Tarnas points out, there is a strong reemergence of Romanticism in the contemporary West. Such contemporary Romanticism appears in contrast to the postmodern disposition to deconstruct the roots of our thinking. According to Tarnas this postmodern style of Romanticism operates as a means to the "radical integration and reconciliation" of contemporary culture.5 "Faced with such a problematic and difficult intellectual situation," Tarnas writes, "thoughtful individuals engage the task of evolving a flexible set of premises and perspectives that would not reduce or suppress the complexity and multiplicity of human realities, yet could also serve to mediate, integrate and clarify."6 It has become the task of many contemporary thinkers to develop an intellectual vision that accounts for the profound diversity of the world and humanity. This romantic vision of cultural revitalization must also be capable of bringing some sense of coherence to the experience of fragmentation characteristic to postmodernity. There is the need of an intellectual revelation, an alternate paradigm that will provide sustainable and fertile ground for the "generation of unanticipated new perspectives and possibilities in the future."7

What I have been trying to do is to point out elements belonging to the postmodern intellectual situation that parallel those found in apocalyptic movements. To make the analogy more explicit, it is necessary to look at the conditions required for the emergence of apocalyptic visions which instigate millennial movements. Michael Barkun in Disaster and the Millennium presents the following as a nutshell definition of millenarian or chiliastic movements:

[They] are social movements which expect immediate, collective, total, this worldly salvation. They anticipate the complete destruction of the existing social order, political, and economic order, which is to be superseded by a new and perfect society. They frequently couple this anticipation with an active desire to speed the inevitable result, often through violent, revolutionary means.8

This description sounds rather like deconstruction. Deconstruction proceeds from the assumption that traditional ways of viewing the world are wrong or false; it then de-legitimates such metanarratives thus leaving space open for the postmodern Romantic impulse to speculate upon a brighter future. Such challenges to the legitimation of traditional paradigms of thought must, at some level, invite social change in general.

The available means of social change, however, are not always violent in nature. As the tittle to Barkun's book suggests, disasters play a role in the onset of millennial thought and movements. Disasters upset social ordering of the world that surrounds a community. Furthermore, such communities need not be understood as merely rural in character. Urban expressions of millennialism have become more and more frequent with the appearance of mass communications, which allow us to vicariously experience disasters as well as enabling an unprecedented potential for the dissemination of the "revealed truth" of a group's apocalyptic vision.

Moreover, we must keep in mind that disasters are not necessarily acts of god or of nature. Man-made disasters now proliferate, including: economic instability, nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, political unrest, as well as ethical and intellectual deprivation, to name a few instances. This is to say that we need not look to natural disasters to find highly destructive events. As Barkun puts it: "Relatively non-destructive events can be characterized as disasters when onlookers regard them as confirming the existence of greater future dangers."9

Other characteristics to millennial movements include: an intense emotional expression; the absolute condemnation of the existing political and social order, while denying its legitimacy; the transgression of accepted norms, laws, and taboos; and, unrealistic aims in regard to the work of revitalizing society.10 In other words, a communal vision of revitalization is necessary. A vision of revitalization that will take place on this planet, whose appearance is imminent, which will involve the total reorganization of reality, and, finally, the belief that the millennium will be initiated by supernatural agencies.11

For Barkun "revitalization lies in the need of a society under excessive stress to either reinforce itself of die."12 This is to say that revitalization movements emerge out of a need to reduce the stress and anxiety that confronts people when their society is no longer capable of providing an effective means of doing so. For Barkun, the twentieth century is "particularly fertile" in its expression of millennialism. One of the things Barkun does in Crucible of the Millennium, is to analyze American expressions of apocalypticism between 1960 and 1985. According to Barkun, the contemporary "apocalyptic chic" has been accompanied by the emergence of political radicalism, a sense of ideological exhaustion,13 the simultaneous emergence of a new form of leftism in American culture14 as well as a resurgence of fundamentalist perspectives and practices, and, finally, the appearance of secular apocalyptic literature.15

Briefly, the ten year following Kennedy's assignation has been seen as a period in which one perceived disaster emerged after another: Martin Luther King's death and the resulting race riots, Viet Nahm, the advent of the new left radicals and the hippy dropouts, the emergence of southern fundamentalism, to name a few instances. Although there were not many significant natural diasters during this period, it was not a stable time. The hey-days of counter-cultural radicalism profoundly upset traditionalists because radicals brought about what traditionalists considered to be assaults on the family, patriotism, and the work ethic. Furthermore, there were social and legal changes that "helped prepare the way for a new millenarian ambience: the women's movement, with its challenge to traditional gender roles; the increasing frequency of sex before and outside of marriage; the visibility and activism of the gay community; and, Supreme Court decisions banning school prayer and permitting abortion."16

More traditional forms of apocalypticism other than the new left's utopia of Maslowian self-fulfilment have also emerged since the 1960s. Turning to dispensationalism, traditional millennial groups pushed prophesies of the millennium into the future upon realizing that the establishment of Israel as a state suggested that biblical prophecies were being fulfilled in the contemporary world.17 Furthermore, fundamentalist denominations in the southern states saw a dramatic increase in attendance as mass media took the dispensationalist message further than it previously ever had gone. Moreover, there was a coinciding shift in political attitudes towards the right as well as an increase in population in the bible-belt--both of which added to the prestige of the fundamentalists' new apocalyptic message.18

More interesting, however, is the concurrent rise in influence of secular apocalyptic literature among intellectuals, government officials, and business leaders. Examples of secular apocalypticism includes such challenges as feminist thought, a perceived environmental disaster,scenarios regarding planetary destruction, and certain Internet subcultures. According to Barkun, contemporary secular apocalypticism has lead to an unintentional buttressing of the authority of their less sophisticated premillennial counterparts (i.e., those who believe that Christ will initiate the millennium). "This secular apocalyptic literature contended that because of the failure of individuals and nations to act wisely, decisions were being taken or were about to be taken which would destroy "civilization as we know it"."19

By reinforcing the authority of apocalyptic themes, secular intellectuals helped make apocalyptic thought more acceptable in western society as a whole. Furthermore, there has been a trend in recent scholarship to acknowledge that apocalypticism is increasing becoming a global phenomenon. Apocalypticism is now understood to be a phenomenon that transcends historical periods and cultures, and encompasses "the traditionally religious as well as the avowedly secular."20 Yet, as Barkun points out, there is also a romantic element in secular apocalypticism: the optimism that we will transcend "Homo sapiens and become Homo humanus."21 Just as religious apocalyptic visions anticipate a new, revitalized society emerging from the carcass of the past world, so too does contemporary secular apocalypticism anticipate the emergence of a pristine, more perfect society.

Statements like these lend credence to my earlier comment that there is a similarity between apocalyptic and postmodern styles of thought. The disasters and threats of diasters during the past thirty years such as natural calamities, abortion, the Gulf War, the AIDs epidemic, as well as political and economic instability throughout the world all contributes to our psychic condition as members of western society. Because of the uncertainty and anxiety caused by this perceived string of disastrous events, those of us in the West may be suffering from what is called disaster syndrome. This is a condition in which people become stunned, withdrawn, passive, suggestible, experience diminished mental capacity, and have difficulties in perceiving reality correctly.22 All of these conditions contribute to a motive for speculating about a better future.

By establishing a motive for such speculation we might conclude that an obsession with disaster and the possibility of changing society has come home to roost in western thought. If we are not deconstructing the world and radically relativizing thought, we are anticipating a new synthesis, a new order that will alleviate all of our uncertainty, urgency, and anxiety. If we are not causing the complete subversion and destruction of the present order of things, we are petitioning for a revitalized society in which we can find worldly salvation. It is the frequency of perceived diasters, their intensification via mass media, the increasing acceptability of challenging and transgressing society's norms that places the postmodern perspective firmly in the Apocalyptic genre.

To make this suggestion more clear, I point to the similarities between Thomas Kuhn's work on paradigm shifts23 and millennial movements. Millennial movements, I suggest, are movements that are concerned with what we could loosely call Kuhnian paradigm shifts. They provide a theory about the cosmos that is felt to better respond to the group's observations about their present condition than the traditional model does. Barkun, in fact, makes just this comparison with Kuhnian notions about paradigm shift (which, incidentally, appeared in 1962, a year before the King and Kennedy assignations). Barkun proposes that in disaster situations, as with millennial thought, there is the emergence of an alternative system of explanation. The emergence of an alternative system of explanation reflects two requirements through which Kuhn characterizes paradigm shifts: "disconfirming evidence and an alternative explanation."24 Furthermore, like Kuhn,25 Barkun notes that conversion experiences play a role in the acceptance of an alternative picture of reality. In both secular and religious conversion experiences, there is an abrupt and "total reorientation, by the frequent surrender of beliefs once strongly held, and by the concurrent adoption of beliefs that once would have been rejected."26

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I want to emphasize again what may now be obvious: postmodern thought in many ways belongs to a genre which can be best described as apocalyptic. We may well wonder how this can be so, after all is not the academic ivory tower supposed to be objective and, hence, removed from the vulgarities of society? Well, as postmodern thinkers, we know that belief in objectivity is supplication to a modern myth that emerged during the Enlightenment. Moreover, the very notion that there was even an Age of Reason or an Enlightenment has mythic implications. Through deconstruction, we might say, the postmodern world is in the process of re-mythologizing the stories which have emerged out of the legacy of Cartesian-Newtonian thought and brought about the cosmology of modernity.

As Robert Brockway informs us in Myth from the Ice Age to Mickey Mouse, "Both the Enlightenment and deconstructionist positions are subjective interpretations rooted in the milieu of the times, the personalities and psychologies of historians, and many other factors. For these reasons they are more like the myths, legends, and story-telling of archaic times than they are not."27 This is to say that like paradigms, myths are founded on the best available evidence at any given time, and "are discredited when the evidence no longer sustains them."28 Brockway also suggests this: when a specific myth no longer functions as a efficient theory or cosmology for a society, new ones rise to attention. Like Kuhn, Brockway claims that these 'new' myths were already present as cultural artifacts because they emerged out of the old myths: "first as modifications and revisions, and ultimately as independent species, something new and different."29

These considerations about myth suggest two things: first, myth-making is an inherent human activity. We make myths in the sense that we invent paradigms and the major change in the modern age has been in the style of mythic expression: "the archaic myth is a metaphor; the modern myth is a theory. Both are models or paradigms."30 Second, the myths or paradigms that we invent are invariably based upon dominant themes of our society. For Brockway, the reason that the apocalyptic genre is present in postmodern thought is that the myths upon which messianism or apocalypticism, for instance, are based "are detectable as the basic foundation on which [western] schemas are built."31

The myths Brockway believes to constitute the foundation to western stories are the Eternal Return and the Hero who Slays the Dragon.32 The myth of the Eternal Return is felt to be the older of the two and reflects a cyclical understanding of the passage of time. This myth is probably based upon the observation of the cyclical nature of time as reflected by such things as the seasons, cycles of sun and moon, mensuration cycles, the round of birth-life-death, and so on. According to the myth of Eternal Return, "there is neither an absolute beginning nor terminus, but instead, infinite regression in the past and eternal recurrence for all time to come."33 It is a myth that is more characteristic of ancient Greece, India, and the East, than it is of the west since the onset of Judaism.

The myth of the Eternal Return is believed to have been challenged in Sumeria around 2500 B.C.E. About this time an agrarian culture was supplanted by nomadic warriors, who conquered the Mesopotamian area and set up an alternate style of social order based in kingship, patriarchy, and patrilinearality of descent.34 Along with such social changes, as the argument goes, came a transformation in how time was perceived: rather than reflecting femininity by its cyclical nature, time was now understood as linear and masculine. For this reason, we could say that the myth of the Hero who Slays the Dragon is characteristic of the concept of linear time, there is now and understanding of time as having a beginning and an end. Finding its literary prototype in the Enuma Elish, we encounter a story of the hero-warrior god Marduk, who does battle with chaos symbolized by his (great) grandmother, the dragoness, Tiamat. Marduk eventually defeats the dragon and, by creating the cosmos and all living beings out of Tiamat's shattered corpse, fulfils history.35 Yet, as is appropriate of a story emerging out of the myth of the Eternal Return, Tiamat or chaos is never ultimately defeated and must be fought again every year in an attempt to "ensure the survival of the fragile cosmos."36

According to Brockway, however, the Hebrews completely rejected the myth of the Eternal Return and conceived of history as the period between creation and the Judgment that ushers in an eternal divine order. Furthermore, "This idea was emphasized by the early Christians who believed they were living in the last days."37 Consequently, we can conclude that the western, Christian world view is one that is based, at least in part, in the apocalyptic vision symbolized by the hero who defeats chaos and recasts reality. Hence, we are enabled to understand what is meant when Brockway points out that

most postmodern historical interpretations are variants of the Christian apocalyptic, since most are written in terms of future expectations, with the view in mind that the nations are moving towards some ultimate destiny. Moreover, since the expansion of Europe has created a single global village, global history itself is now written in terms of Christian sacred history. The myth provides the paradigm.38

We can, I believe, extend this proclamation to all of western speculation, art, literature, and the like. That is, if we assume that the story of the hero slaying the dragon is one of the foundations of western thought, its sphere of influence can be expected to appear in all realms of western culture.

It is in the hero who slays the dragon, I propose, that we can find a reflection of both postmodern and apocalyptic styles of thought: i.e., the tendency to do battle with past monsters, and the vision of creating a new and better world. The apocalyptic postmodern hero is one that would fight for the de-institutionalization of traditional social edifices, subvert traditional authority, and bring about a new and more perfect society. Consequently, we might say that the apocalyptic postmodern hero is optimistic and idealistic: faced with a disastrous contemporary situation, he or she has been converted to romanticism in the desire to imagine a better world. The romanticism mentioned by Tarnas is characteristic of a felt need for revitalization, for a paradigm shift. The apocalyptic postmodern hero is also idealistic in his or her anticipation of the defeat of chaos represented by the monster of modernity and the opportunity to radically recast the world--i.e., to instigate a paradigm shift.

What the apocalyptic character of postmodern thought suggests is that the deconstructive project may have failed its mandate.39 If it is the goal of deconstruction to unmask the background assumptions built into western thought, one of its tasks must necessarily be to demythologize, to unmask the apocalyptic basis of its own thought. Yet, deconstruction has not looked into its own motives and presuppositions to a satisfactory degree.40 Even if deconstruction has failed itself, it is not the only epistemological perspective characteristic of postmodernity. Contemporary western romanticism not only questions and debunks traditional intellectual edifices, it also offers alternative perspectives that ultimate challenge the status of the apocalyptic hero--which has been the basis of the Modern West's imagination of selfhood.

There are several individuals who are writing about a selfhood that can be characterized as postmodern. I will look at one feminist's criticisms of the modern imagination of self as hero: Catherine Keller. In From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism, and Self, Keller denies the primacy of the hero as a model for selfhood. As a feminist, Keller is extremely interested in deconstructing traditional narrative of the self. In From a Broken Web Keller criticizes traditional philosophy, theology, and psychology's heroic attitude in regard to how self is constructed. She characterizes traditional concepts of self: it is separated, unemotional and rational, non-material, and normatively masculine.41 Keller understands the heroic ego as constituting the basis of western thought. Like Brockway, she finds roots of the hero paradigm in the Enuma Elish, which, as we know, is the Babylonian myth of genesis. To Keller, Marduk's act of slaying Tiamat represents the onset of patriarchy in the western tradition. It was the patriarchal warrior-hero that came to Mesopotamia, and defeated the matriarchal based agrarian cultures already present. In such characterizations, we find suggestions of a paradigm shift: the paradigm of cyclical time as represented by the myth of the Eternal Return appearing in agrarian cultures was supplanted by a model of linear time represented by the Hero who Slayed the Dragon.

Keller, however, extends the metaphor to posit that the events in ancient Sumeria has become the prototype for a tradition of symbolic matricide in the western world.42 Like Brockway, who claims that the Hebrews completely rejected the Eternal Return, Keller suggests that the Enuma Elish is at the roots of Jewish mythology. Jewish mythology, as we know, is in turn the basis of much of Christian myth and ultimately contemporary western theology, philosophy, science, and psychology. Arguing from a psychoanalytical critique of development based in the thoughts of Nancy Chodorow, Carol Gilligan, and Dorothy Dinnerstein, Keller claims that the Freudian Oedipal drama and Jungian notions of individuation reflect the matricidal impulse represented by the murder of Tiamat. That is, the impulse to violently free oneself from, to slay the overwhelming mother, is understood to constitute the basis of maturation in traditional, western depth psychology.43

Keller asserts that this is not a good model for theorizing about self in general, and women's understanding of self in specific. Asserting that it is possible to reflect upon maturation using themes other than matricide, Keller argues for the idea of a connective self as a possible corrective to the traditional, separated self. She uses feminist insights to suggest an idea of self as interconnected to the surrounding world, a self that exists in community, a self that is in process, and a self that is diverse as well as multi-determined.44

In Keller's criticisms of traditional notions of selfhood, we once more find the paradox of the hero who slays the monster of modernity. On the first level, Keller takes on the role of the hero that instigates the postmodern apocalypse: a paradigm shift that, in slaughtering the monster of modernity, denies the primacy and legitimacy of the hero itself. It is the voice of the rational hero that is being employed to deconstruct itself. There is, however, another, paradoxical, level to this metaphor that needs to be considered. What I am referring to is Keller's charge that matricide is intrinsic to western culture. She finds in the Enuma Elish a literary representation of the defeat of matriarchy as represented by the Myth of the Eternal Return by the patriarchal Hero who slayed the Dragon. Keller suggests that we can find in the destruction of Tiamat, the beginnings of the patriarchal, separated self that matures through a model which includes the symbolic or mythic act of matricide. Yet it is now the dragon, as represented by feminism for instance, that is rising up to slay the hero and set the world right.

Brockway inadvertently concurs with Keller over this point. Referring to Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, Brockway suggests that today we encounter little else than the ironic mode in contemporary myths or literature. According to Brockway

the ironic version of the Hero and Dragon myth is a moral commentary on our age since it is the dragon who is really the hero. Only the dragon acts with courage and determination, but, of course, he [sic] is bound to lose as well since there are no winners or losers. The Hero and Dragon myth has been reabsorbed into the Myth of Eternal Return.45

This is to suggest that today it is the feminine principle, if you will, it is feminists, it is the dragon understood to represent women and not modernity, that is emerging as the protagonist at the end of the second millennium.

Richard Tarnas also agrees with the assessment that feminist thought is emerging as the protagonist of the late twentieth century. To Tarnas the "dynamic tension and interplay between the deconstructive and the integrative" is nowhere "more dramatically in evidence than in the rapidly expanding body of work produced by women informed by feminism."46 Furthermore, Tarnas claims that the Western, masculine world view has evolved through the

repression of the feminine--on the repression of the undifferentiated unitary consciousness, of the participation mystique with nature: a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of the all-pervading, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body nature, woman.47

Tarnas suggests that the masculine-hero paradigm has existed by feeding upon the repressed, vilified, and murdered feminine. He suggests that the days of the hero are numbered, because we are much more interested in hearing what the dragon, or the feminine has to say in regard to how the world is constructed by our myths or paradigms.

The myth of the Eternal Return is coming back because the dragon was never truly defeated. With the resurgence of a style of thought based in the myth of Eternal Return may come a more realistic and less compulsive approach to self and society. For, as I suggested earlier, the Hero myth can be seen to be an idealistic praxis in regards to its optimism and romanticism, its fantasy of apocalyptic revitalization, its call for the deinstitutionalization of self and society, and the story of dramatic events causing the end of time and bringing about a new and improved world. In contrast, the myth of the Eternal Return suggests that life is not a story, instead life moves "from anticlimax to anticlimax."48 There is to be no real sudden change for the better, for as much as the hero must slay the returning dragon every year, so too do radical and new ideas eventually become institutionalized and must then be nullified. To me, the myth of the Eternal Return represents a less idealistic more realistic view of things: it suggests that any dramatic change is not for all time, that things work in cycles, that there is no one way of representing the world, and that all things operate in conjunction.


Although the myth of Eternal Return may be reemerging in contemporary western society, the Hero still maintains a large sphere of influence. The attitude represented by the Hero will be with us for a long time, insofar that it has penetrated all forms of western thought: the sciences, the arts, and the religious. I am not attempting to say that the attitudes represented by the myth of the Hero should be rejected outright, that would not fall within the purview of postmodernity, which employs myriad forms of expression to appreciate humanity's inherent diversity. Yet, we must keep in mind the human tendency to make myths and how this will be reflected at the end of the second millennium. The battle between the dragon and the hero, or between cyclical and linear nature, between institutionalized and alternative paradigms will continue as we overtake the millennial year, 2000.49 The year 2000, "once the symbol of a technological consummation, where human ills would yield to scientific certain to revert to its chiliastic function, [as] a sign post on the road to some cosmic overturning."50

How western society responds to the turn of the millennium should not be too surprising: it will anticipate an apocalypse. But the means of revitalizing society, of shifting paradigms, do not necessarily have to be climatic and violent. Even though the world will change, is changing faster and more profoundly than ever before, perhaps the re-emergence of the myth of Eternal Return can help to mitigate the dramatic chaos that might unfold as we approach the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third.


0 Richard Tarnas makes just this pronouncement in The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped our World View. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), 398.

1 I understand postmodernity to be characterized by the following four points: it is 1) the radical relativisation of western cultural practices, discourses, myths, and sciences (Lyotard); 2) the radical politicization of western cultural practices, mores, ideals, and norms; 3) a radical expression of the western ideal of democracy based in the metaphors of the individual, human freedom, human rights, access to information, and the right to self determination; and, 4) a radically informed romanticism reemerging in contemporary western thought with an apocalyptic vision which articulates and alternate imagination of subjectivity and cosmology.

2 Richard Tarnas. The Passion of the Western Mind, 401.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 408.

6 Ibid., 409.

7 Ibid.

8 Michael Barkun. Disaster and the Millennium. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 18.

9 Michael Barkum. Crucible of the Millennium: the Burned-Over District of New York in the 1840's. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986), 153.

10 Ibid., 18-19.

11 Ibid., 18.

12 Barkun, Disaster and the Millennium, 38.

13 Barkun characterizes such ideological exhaustion as appearing during the period between the 1930s and 1950s in which the right and the left had exhausted their ideologies which were "`once the road to action, has come to a dead end'." This exhaustion was "compounded by disillusionment over ideologies in power abroad and the rise of a political consensus in the United States." Hence the old means of speaking about a social utopia "appeared neither desirable nor necessary." (Crucible of the Millennium, 154).

14 Barkun characterizes this new form of leftism as one that merely reemphasized the end of ideology thesis. "This terminally ideological exhaustion was confirmed by the tendency of many in the New Left to migrate into non-political activities." From radical political activity, to social interaction, and finally the commune of self discovery--the people dropped out! (Ibid., 155).

15 Ibid., 154-156.

16 Ibid., 155.

17 Barkun informs us that the 1960s premillennial movement "arose out of a system of Biblical interpretation developed by the English evangelical, John Nelson Darby." Darby divided the world into religious significant periods or "dispensations," and "the effect of these new historical divisions was to push the fulfilment of Biblical prophecies into the future." (Ibid., 156).

18 Ibid., 157-158.

19 Ibid., 158.

20 Ibid., 17.

21 Ibid.

22 Barkun, Disaster and the Millennium, 52.

23 According to Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962) a successful paradigm shift requires that an alternate idea must be present and seem to be able to solve some "outstanding and generally recognized problem" and must "promise to preserve a relatively large part of the concrete problem-solving ability" that the previous paradigm accrued to the field of study. (168) There are five further characteristics to paradigm shifts: 1) a community of thinkers must reject its "time-honoured theory" in favour of another approach incompatible with it; 2) this produces a consequent shift in the problems available to that community and the standards by which the community determines whether or not a problem is valid; 3) the alternate theory must be sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group away from the competition; 4) the theory must be sufficiently open-ended so as to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve; and, 5) ideational revolutions must transform the intellectual imagination in ways that needs be described as a "transformation of the world within which the scientific work was done." (5-10).

24 Barkun, Disaster and the Millennium, 121.

25 Ibid., 149ff.

26 Ibid., 98.

27 Robert W. Brockway. Myth from the Ice Age to Mickey Mouse. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 79.

28 Ibid., 93.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., 75.

31 Ibid., 80.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid., 53.

34 See: Catherine Keller's From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism and Self. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986) and Starhawk's The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989, [1979]).

35 Ibid., 51-52.

36 Ibid., 53-54.

37 Ibid., 54.

38 Ibid., 93.

39 Personal communication with Henry Leyenhorst, January 1994.

40 For an interesting and initial debate on the usefulness of deconstruction see Richard Ellis' Against Deconstruction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). Ellis argues, for instance, that the viewpoint espoused by deconstructionists is neither original nor coherent.

41 Keller. From a Broken Web, 1-111.

42 Ibid., 81.

43 Ibid., 61ff.

44 Ibid., 157ff.

45 Brockway, Myth, 72.

46 Tarnas, Passion of the Western Mind, 407. Tarnas also has this to say: "Considered as a whole, the feminist perspective and impulse has brought forth perhaps the most vigorous, subtle and radically critical analysis of conventional intellectual and cultural assumptions in all of contemporary scholarship." (408)

47 Ibid., 442.

48 Ibid., 71.

49 Barkun, Crucible of the Millennium, 160.

50 Ibid.


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Keller, Catherine. From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism and Self. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

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Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped our World View. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.

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