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Reviewed by:
  • Anti-Apocalypse
  • Michael A. Weinstein
Lee Quinby. Anti-Apocalypse. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1994. 208 pp. $44.95 cloth, $17.95 paper.

Anti-Apocalypse falls into a popular genre in American postmodern discourses that mixes political commitment with critical theory. In Lee Quinby’s case the critical theory comes from a selective appropriation of Michel Foucault’s genealogical method, with an assist from Jean Baudrillard, about whom Quinby is deeply ambivalent. The political commitment is to an idiosyncratic position of hip-feminist-radical-democratic-(not-so-crypto) liberalism. Anti-Apocalypse is shaped by the tensions between political commitment and genealogical criticism, and by the tensions within Quinby’s particular political commitment.

The discourse of Anti-Apocalypse circulates between three structuring terms: “apocalyptic power/knowledge,” “genealogical criticism,” and “liberty.” Apocalyptic power/knowledge is the object of genealogical criticism, which functions in the service of liberty. “Liberty” is Quinby’s term of ultimate appeal; she attacks apocalyptic power/knowledge because of its deprivals of freedom.

Anti-Apocalypse is composed of a theoretical introduction, seven loosely-coupled essays, and a coda on the David Koresh affair. The essays are divided among theoretical studies, hip cultural criticism, and applications of genealogical criticism to modernist texts. The ebbs and flows of Anti-Apocalypse are governed by Quinby’s political commitment, which leads her to compromise and make exceptions to her genealogical criticism, which is dedicated to deconstructing/destroying apocalyptic discourse by exposing it and bringing to bear suppressed and marginalized knowledges against it.

Quinby’s most comprehensive political commitment is to resistance against apocalyptic discourses and practices. Any discourse that has the effect of making the will to resist flag is placed by Quinby into the category of apocalyptic power/knowledge, sometimes at the cost of stretching that category beyond credibility. At the same time, Quinby’s commitment to feminism leads her to try to make an exception for apocalyptic feminism, which she holds to be a benign form of apocalyptic discourse. Such compromises and evasions vitiate the text’s seriousness as a work of criticism and encourage it to be read as a tract or a rallying cry.

Apocalyptic power/knowledge is a contracting and expanding target [End Page 919] in Quinby’s text, moving between a strong and a weak definition. A precise version of the strong definition occurs when Quinby gathers under apocalyptic power/knowledge the Old Testament Book of Daniel, the early Christian texts of Origen and Tertullian, and the writings of Joachim Fiore, John Milton, Jonathon Edwards, Karl Marx, and Hal Lindsey. All of those texts are apocalyptic “insofar as they envision an end to history as it has been known, attribute that end to a force greater than humanity, call for action in the name of a higher cause (metaphysical or political), and forecast a new era” (89). For Quinby, apocalyptic discourse of the strong sort forecloses liberty by sacrificing the finite flesh to the higher cause. In this opposition to absolutism, Quinby joins the mainline liberal tradition.

For all liberals strong apocalyptic discourse is anathema. Quinby avoids appearing to be just another member of the liberal crowd by expediently stretching the operative definition of apocalyptic power/ knowledge to include everything that is not also radical and democratic in the sense of furthering opposition to the established bureaucracies and their power/knowledges (discourses and practices), which she considers to be masculinist, racialist, and class-exploitative. This tactic makes the notion of apocalyptic power/knowledge hopelessly vague and useless as a critical tool. At its limits it leads to absurd reasoning.

Quinby is haunted by Baudrillard, who declares that the apocalypse has already happened and, thus, who characterizes himself as postapocalyptic. Quinby does not deny that Baudrillard does not envision an end to history as it has been known, attribute that end to a force greater than humanity, call for action in the name of a higher cause, and forecast a new era. Indeed, by such refusals, Baudrillard should be one of Quinby’s genealogical critics who elucidate past and present. Yet, for Quinby, “despite his critique of contemporary apocalypse as anachronistic, Baudrillard is quintessentially apocalyptic . . .” because “his already-too-late theme reinforces the antiactivist, apathetic stance...

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pp. 919-921
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