Apocalyptic Narcissism and the Difficulty of Mourning

  • Florian Mussgnug UCL
Keywords: Death, Mourning, Apocalypse, Sigmund Freud, René Girard


In this article I examine how death and loss feature in recent apocalypse fiction and suggest that, in a genre mostly concerned with finitude, there appears to be paradoxically little room for expressions of mourning. I assess contemporary attitudes towards mortality through the writings of Philippe Ariès, Zygmunt Bauman, Simon Critchley and others, and propose a psychoanalytic reading of solitary survivor narrative, inspired by the work of Martin Jay. In the final part of the article, I turn to Sigmund Freud and René Girard to explore the relation between apocalyptic teleology, melancholy, and the expectation of global catastrophe.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Florian Mussgnug, UCL
Florian Mussgnug is Reader in Italian and Comparative Literature at UCL and Director of the UCL Comparative Literature Programme. He works on modern and contemporary literature in Italian, English and German. He is especially interested in literary theory, experimental writing, critical animal studies, masculinity, environmental literature, cultural representations of catastrophe and apocalypse. He received his doctorate from the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Italy, and his BA and MSt from the University of Oxford. He also taught at the University of Rome, where he was Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature in 2010-11. His book The Eloquence of Ghosts: Giorgio Manganelli and the Afterlife of the Avant-Garde (2010) was awarded the Edinburgh Gadda Prize in 2012. His most recent book The Good Place: Comparative Perspectives on Utopia (co-edited with Matthew Reza) was published in 2014. He is co-founder of the London Intercollegiate Network for Comparative Studies (LINKS) and co-investigator of the AHRC-funded research project “Interdisciplinary Italy 1900-2020: Interart/Intermedia”. His next book will be on the end of the world.


Ariès, Philippe, L’homme devant la mort, Paris, Seuil, 1977, trans. Helen Weaver, The Hour of Our Death, New York, Alfred Knopf, 1981.

Atwood, Margaret, Oryx and Crake (2003), London, Virago Press, 2004.

Bakhtin, Mikhail, Rabelais and His World, Trans. Helene Iswosly, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1984.

Barkun, Michael, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, Berkely, University of California Press, 2003.

Baudrillard, Jean, L’Échange symbolique et la mort, Paris, Gallimard, 1976, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant: Symbolic Exchange and Death, London, Sage, 1993.

Bauman, Zygmunt, Liquid Fear, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2006.

Benjamin, Marina, Living at the End of the World, London, Picador, 1998.

Berger, James, After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Brooks, Peter, Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1993.

Burke, Kenneth, "Thanatopsis for Critics: A Brief Thesaurus of Deaths and Dyings", Essays in Criticism, 2 (1952): 370–75.

Butler, Judith, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, London, Verso, 2004.

Carey, M.R., The Girl with all the Gifts, London, Orbit, 2014.

Critchley, Simon, Very Little… Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature, London, Routledge, 1997.

Derrida, Jacques, The Work of Mourning, Ed. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2001.

Dollimore, Jonathan, Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1998.

Fiddes, Paul S., The Promised End: Eschatology in Theology and Literature, Oxford, Blackwell, 2000.

Finamore, Stephen, God, Order, and Chaos: René Girard and the Apocalypse, Eugene, Oregon, Wipf and Stock, 2009.

Franke, William, Poetry and Apocalypse: Theological Disclosures of Poetic Language, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2009.

Freud, Sigmund, “Zeitgemäßes über Krieg und Tod” (1915), trans."Thoughts for the Times on War and Death", Collected Papers, Ed. Ernest Joes, Trans. Joan Riviere, vol. 4, New York, Basic Books, 1959: 288–317.

Id., Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930), trans. Civilization and Its Discontents, Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, translated under the general editorship of James Stratchey, in collaboration with Anna Freud, assisted by Alix Strachey and Alan Tyson, vol. 21, London, Hogarth Press, 1961: 64–148.

Gilbert, Sandra M., Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways we Grieve, London, W.W. Norton, 2005.

Girard, René, The Scapegoat, London, The Athlone Press, 1986.

Id., Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Ed. Jean-Michel Oughoulian and Guy Lefort, London, The Athlone Press, 1987.

Id., "The Founding Murder in the Philosophy of Nietzsche", Violence and Truth: on the work of René Girard, Ed. Paul Dumouchel, London, The Athlone Press, 1988: 227–246.

Gray, John, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, London, Penguin 2008.

Id., The Immortalization Commission: The Strange Quest to Cheat Death, London, Allen Lane, 2011.

Heffernan, Teresa, Post-Apocalyptic Culture: Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Twentieth-Century Novel, Toronto, Toronto University Press, 2008.

Heller, Peter, The Dog Stars, London, Headline, 2012.

Horn, Eva, Zukunft als Katastrophe, Frankfurt am Main, Fischer, 2014.

Jay, Martin, “The Apocalyptic Imagination and the Inability to Mourn” Force Fields: Between Intellectual History and Cultural Critique, London, Routledge, 1993: 84-98.

Kristeva, Julia,Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, Trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York, Columbia University Press, 1989.

Mosse, George L., Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990.

Mousoutzanis, Aris, Fin-de-Siècle Fictions, 1890s/1990s: Apocalypse, Technoscience, Empire, London, Palgrave, 2014.

Mussgnug, Florian, “Sulla rappresentazione della morte del padre in alcuni romanzi contemporanei”, I vecchi e i giovani: Quaderni di Synapsis 1, Ed. Marina Polacco, Florence, Le Monnier, 2002: 245–61.

Id., “Naturalizing apocalypse: Last men and other animals”, Comparative Critical Studies, 9/3, 2012: 333–47.

Plank, Robert, “The Lone Survivor”, The End of the World, Ed. Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983: 20–52.

Ramazani, Jahan, Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Schossböck, Judith, Letzte Menschen: Postapokalyptische Narrative und Identitäten in der neueren Literatur nach 1945, Bochum, Projektverlag, 2012.

Stafford, Fiona J., The Last of the Race: The Growth of a Myth from Milton to Darwin, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994.

Szendy, Peter, Apocalypse-Cinema: 2012 and Other Ends of the World, Trans. Will Bishop, Foreword by Samuel Weber, New York, Fordham University Press, 2015.

Theroux, Marcel, Far North, London, Faber and Faber, 2009.

Vendler, Helen, Last looks, last books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2010.

Wallis, John, "Millenarianism and Violence in the Contemporary World", Expecting the End: Millennialism in Social and Historical Context, Ed. Kenneth G.C. Newport and Crawford Gribben, Waco, Texas, Baylor University Press, 2006: 25–47.

Warner, Marina, Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-First Century, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Williams, Evan Calder, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse, Winchester, Zero Books, 2011.

Žižek, Slavoj, Living in the End Times, London, Verso, 2010.

How to Cite
Mussgnug, F. (1). Apocalyptic Narcissism and the Difficulty of Mourning. Between, 5(10). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/2214
Narratives and Imaginaries in Politics and History