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After the Orgy

Toward a Politics of Exhaustion

Dominic Pettman

Publication Year: 2002

Applying Jean Baudrillard’s question “What are you doing after the orgy?” to the postmillennial climate that informs our contemporary cultural moment, this book argues that the imagination of apocalyptic endings has been an obsessive theme in post-Enlightenment culture. Dominic Pettman identifies and examines the dynamic tensions of various apocalyptic discourses, from the fin-de-siècle decadents of the 1890s to the fin-de-millènnium cyberpunks of the 1990s, in order to highlight the complex constellation of exhaustion, anticipation, panic, and ecstasy in contemporary culture. Through analyses of rapturous cults, cyberpunk literature, post-apocalyptic cinema, techno-paganism, death fashion, and the Y2K prophecy, After the Orgy explores why the twentieth century swung so violently between the poles of anticipation and anticlimax. In the process, the book raises pressing questions concerning the relevance of such ideas in our new millennium and points out alternatives to the monotonous horror of traditional narratives.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Postmodern Culture

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

We currently find ourselves in the strange position of living in the future itself. Since Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick combined to make the quintessential science fiction movie, 2001 has signified “the future” for several generations, and it is now a matter of some significance that we have passed this date. To what extent our present...

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pp. xiii

I would like to thank numerous people who contributed to this book, directly or indirectly, whether during its previous life as a doctoral thesis, or throughout its lengthy metamorphosis into a manuscript. Simon During, Ken Gelder, Mark Dery, David Bennett and Catherine Gallagher all guided my gauche enthusiasm into...

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Introduction: After the Orgy

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pp. 1-24

On March 26, 1997, thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate cult were found dead in Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego, their Nike shoes sticking conspicuously out of their purple shrouds. They had taken their lives in the belief that the Hale-Bopp comet was shielding an alien space craft that was to take them to the Level above Human. The ensuing...

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1. Panic Merchants: Prophecy and the Satyr

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pp. 25-35

The Greek god Pan is one of western culture’s most enduring and ubiquitous trickster figures. Half-man, half-goat, Pan dwells in forests and glades trying to seduce nymphs, despite his grotesque demeanor. Born in Arcadia, he has thus become an icon for those who lament the Fall into...

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2. The Rapture of Rupture

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pp. 37-61

Before we contemplate life “after the orgy,” however, we must look at the orgy itself, or at least those whose rhetoric was orgiastic. The Marquis de Sade, Georges Bataille, and Friedrich Nietzsche constitute a canon for any libidinal genealogy located within historical philosophy. Their works help to define many pivotal terms,...

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3. The Virtual Apocalypse

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pp. 63-98

As we prepared for our transition into the twenty-first century, an emergent discussion of digital communication technologies warned of the possible “annihilation of space and time.” We must remind ourselves, however, that the invention of the steam engine and the railroad inspired similar declarations in mid-nineteenth-century...

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4. Decaying Forward: Satiety and Society

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pp. 99-115

One of the most valuable documents about the nineteenth-century fin de siècle is Max Nordau’s wide-ranging polemic, Degeneration. Published in German in 1892 as Entartung, and translated into English three years later, this book champions the progressivist liberal-humanism of its author against such classic decadent texts as...

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5. Cosmic Architects

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pp. 117-140

Several decades after the event, baby boomers continue to sit behind “the curtains of darkness,” trying to shed some light on this magical-mystical decade. This quote from Robbins’s Jitterbug Perfume (1990) clearly displays the rhetorical double-movement made by many survivors of the sixties counterculture; obliged to...

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6. Playing at Catastrophe

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pp. 141-170

In the final years of the twentieth century a new “look” emerged from the eternally recurring spectacle of the fashion world. Mimicking the corpse, it was referred to as “death fashion” or “heroin chic.” Beautiful young models are arranged in mortified postures, and a fabricated autopsy report listed alongside the label...

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7. Conclusion: The Revelation Will not be Televised

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pp. 171-182

New Year’s Eves are notoriously anti-climactic. This is because we insist that they hold the symbolic weight of a temporally significant transitional moment, a weight the actual experience of time passing cannot hold. Despite the conviction of the prophets of apocalypse, there is always a morning after. We are always already after the...


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pp. 183-186

Works Cited

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pp. 187-197


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pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780791488492
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791453957
Print-ISBN-10: 0791453952

Page Count: 222
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: SUNY series in Postmodern Culture