What’s it like to be a scholar of the apocalypse?
I really enjoy science fiction that centres on catastrophe, transmogrification, small scenarios in which relationships are put under intense external pressures. I also grew up loving the aesthetic of Mad Max, and anime like Akira and Neon Genesis Evangelion. I was obsessed with big spectacle apocalypse/disaster movies, and where our spectacularisation of the end of the world would lead. That became the inspiration for a fiction manuscript, and I started to read about the history of apocalypse— what it’s for, its status as a protest literature, how it’s been used in the mobilisation of social movements as well as making normative claims about how people should be.
Then I went to Japan and became obsessed with how apocalypse is used to work through the shock of the nuclear bombings. By that point I had so many related yet disparate interests that I decided to use a PhD thesis to investigate the postapocalypse as a contemporary modification of apocalyptic traditions.
What’s the most climactic piece of music you know?
‘Mr Blue Sky’ by Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). It is a song that should be playing under a big decision. Like a wake-up-in-the-morning-and-take-control kind of song. But of course there are all kinds of climaxes. We are a multiply climaxing species.
What do you listen to while you write?
I never listen to music while I write. I can’t handle that sort of distraction. When I edit or proofread my own work I sometimes listen to music, but it can’t have any lyrics, or too much narrative. The Necks is good and some Sun Ra, soundtracks if I don’t know the movie too well, and post-rock type bands like Godspeed, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai. But even then sometimes I can’t hack it.
What is so appealing about the end of the world?
I think in film and literature it’s a good ‘what if’ scenario, one that lends itself to interesting relationships and high spectacle. In terms of the work I do on the apocalypse, it’s interesting to see it as a catastrophic transformation from which something else might emerge, or in which we can launch some critique on our present predicaments.
What’s the most earth-shakingly good album you’ve ever listened to?
David Bowie’s Let’s Dance is unfuckwithable. But the first album I bought was The Bangles’ Different Light. That REALLY blew my mind at seven. I was expecting it to just be ‘Manic Monday’ and ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’, which were cute, kid-friendly songs, but actually, it’s a really great, nuanced and hook-filled pop album and it sort of introduced me to the concept of ‘a band’ rather than just ‘songs’. And they covered a Big Star song on it, which led me, decades later, to listen to Big Star’s #1 Record, which is earthshakingly good.
What are five songs you would choose for the soundtrack of an apocalypse movie?
- Le Tigre –‘Phanta’
- Black Mountain –‘Wucan’
- The Beatles –‘A Day In The Life’
- L7 –‘You And Me Till The Wheels Fall Off’
- Nina Simone –‘Wild is the Wind’