The Apocalyptic Imagination: Nature, Enlightenment and the Genre of Disaster Films


Kim Su Rasmussen, Eli Park Sorensen

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In this article, we want to investigate the cultural significance of disaster, and more broadly the contemporary apocalyptic imagination from aesthetic, political and philosophical angles. The apocalyptic imagination is in many ways an effect of what Horkheimer and Adorno labelled the dialectic of enlightenment, which represents the gradual, down-spiralling movement of enlightenment thought toward a point of disaster. The ruthless technological exploitation of the world’s natural resources has created a context for Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory which has made it all the more actual; what makes Adorno and Horkheimer’s thesis so compelling today is above all that for the first time in the history of human being it is as if there is nothing genuinely natural left today. Insofar as nature has lost its potency, the postmodern individual has been emancipated from the traditional source of collective anxiety. At the same time, however, the postmodern individual has also lost one of its fundamental motivations for banding together; if nature no longer poses a vital threat there is little reason for the individual to curtail his or her interests under that of the collective. It is in this context that the imagination of disaster takes on a renewed cultural significance. We explore this renewed cultural significance through Roland Emmerich’s eco-disaster movies, arguing that in our compulsion to produce and consume fantasies of disaster hides a utopian gesture of remembering, a desire to reclaim memories of a future social order that in our present world has long been forgotten, vanished.


 The Dialectic of Enlightenment
 Nature De-naturalized
 The ldea of Community
 Catastrophe and Change
 The Day After Tomorrow and 2012
 The Return of the Repressed
 Forgetting, Remebering
 Works Cited


  • Kim Su Rasmussen lndependent Scholar
  • Eli Park Sorensen Seoul National University


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