Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 194 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Tom Cohen

Committee Members

Kevin Bell, James Lilley


Anthropocene, Catastrophe, Cormac McCarthy, John Edgar Wideman, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Catastrophical, The, in literature, Nihilism (Philosophy) in literature, End of the world in literature

Subject Categories

American Literature | Arts and Humanities


Reading after the End of the World is an investigation into challenges to our critical registers brought on by the increasingly visible effects of climate change and the era of the anthropocene. Its concerns are with how these realities can be seen as transformative of our notions of "reading" and with a literature that seems to anticipate such a moment of disarticulation. The project is organized around close readings of novels by Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison and John Edgar Wideman and it traces in these texts what I refer to as a "positive nihilism," which serves as a principle of disarticulation and turns against humanist, exceptionalist and redemptive reading models. Through the concept of the catastrophic, my dissertation seeks to connect these writers to a critical - mostly Continental - tradition that mobilizes the inhuman, negativity, nihilism, as a critical interventionist potential. Drawing on writers who productively engage negativity from Nietzsche's notion of "active nihilism" and Walter Benjamin's description of material "shocks" to our sensory systems to more contemporary mobilization of nihilism such as Ray Brassier's Nihil Unbound, I argue that these novels perform an important intervention into the psychological, messianic and historicist models through which they have been established as canonical and suggest the performance of the catastrophic as aesthetic principle. Reading after the end of the world thus seeks to uncover specificities and critical potential that traditional redemptive registers tend to overlook in their desire to reinscribe literary texts through a form of taming of the catastrophic into models of understanding - historical, cultural or in terms of identity.