Merriam-Webster defines culture as the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time (Culture | Definition of Culture by Merriam-Webster ). Integral to this simplistic interpretation of culture is the idea that culture and our existence are inseparable. In other words, if we exist, we will have some culture. What happens if our existence begins to crumble, such as in an apocalypse?
In Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel examines this reality. More specifically, Mandel creates a world that is crumbling from a highly contagious pandemic. Having said this, amid a collapsing world, Mandel spends a great deal of time examining the culture in this collapsing world. In my opinion, this was intentional. Not only does she use the Travelling Symphony to show how a new culture was created in this apocalyptic world, but she also uses the culture of the world prior to the apocalyptic pandemic to influence the actions of the characters in the story. An example of this latter point is the creation of the Prophet through the literary work of Miranda in this story. Ironically, this literary work was also called Station Eleven.
What was Mandel trying to accomplish with this intertwinement of culture in her apocalyptic narrative? In my opinion, I think that she was just trying to emphasis the significance of literature, art and music in apocalyptic times. Evidence for this can be seen near the end of the novel when almost all the characters examined throughout the story convene at the Museum of Civilization. I view this as evidence simply because at the heart of this rebirthing civilization was a location of cultural significance. In other words, it seemed to me that the author was subliminally suggesting that civilization could not be reborn without a foundation of culture.
Does this mean that our survival in an upcoming apocalypse will heavily depend upon culture? I believe it does, and I am glad I was able to examine this crucial and often forgotten aspect in Mandel’s novel. If we are missing cultural elements of our world pre-apocalypse, it will be difficult to rebuild the world as we know it post-apocalypse.
Evolution is a concept that has been around since the 19th century. More specifically, Darwin and other biologists of this era found reasonable evidence to suggest that the diversity of life on earth originates from preexisting types that have differentiated through several generations. Originally, this evidence was found in fossils, comparative studies and geographic distributions. Later on, the evidence for evolution grew into fields of genetics, biochemistry, ecology and molecular biology (https://www.britannica.com/science/evolution-scientific-theory).
Since this revelation in biological theory, there has always been an assumption that evolution is a process that always moves forward. By forward, I mean in a manner that further or develops or differentiates the existing life on earth. This thought process makes sense because it centered on the idea of natural selection. Simply put, natural selection is a process where a mutated genetic code is naturally selected for because it confers an increased chance of survival and reproduction in the given population (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-selection/). In other words, natural selection is what moves evolution forward. What about backwards?
In Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich examines the idea of ‘reverse evolution’. In her story, she tells of a woman named Cedar that is pregnant in an apocalyptic world where the diversity of life seems to be going in reverse. In my opinion, I feel like this scenario parallels our world to an extent. Think about it. We live in a world with massive wildfires, natural disasters, and melting tundra. The diversity of our world is actively decreasing.
Are their consequences in a world that seems to be evolving backward? Certainly. Erdrich points this out in her novel through her depiction of societal chaos. The diversity of our world creates feelings of security, prosperity and longevity. Without this, our complex way of life on earth nowadays is crippled. In turn, this crippling way of life drives fear that leads to the collapse of vast societies.
What can be done to ensure that we do not reach the point of collapse? Not changing anything has not seemed to achieve anything worthwhile, so it might make more sense to address certain aspects of our world that may contribute to this upsetting situation. This, of course, is easier said than done.
This blog was created by Bobby Leeper. He is a student at Wright State University studying both biological sciences and Spanish.