“Time, no arrow, no boomerang, but a concertina”: Cloud Atlas and the Anti-Apocalyptic Critical Temporalities of the Contemporary Post-Apocalyptic Novel

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Through the paradigmatic example of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, I argue that contemporary post-apocalyptic fictions articulate temporalities critical of Western modernity’s apocalyptic understanding of history. The article’s first section outlines the history of apocalyptic discourse and fleshes out the connection between postmodern theories of historiography and contemporary post-apocalyptic novels: these invite us to reflect on history qua narrative, while challenging an essentially apocalyptic model of narrative. The second section focuses on Cloud Atlas’s concertina-like structure, which resists a telic closure, warps the deterministic linearity of apocalyptic history and of traditional plots, and, through recurring patterns, foregrounds the dystopian implications of apocalypticism. The third section considers these implications in Cloud Atlas—from colonialism to the future neo-colonial biopower of corporations and anthropogenic environmental crises. Finally, I examine how the content and structure of the novel combine to exalt individual agency against the determinism and predatory behavior supported by the apocalyptic metanarrative.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-257
Number of pages15
JournalCritique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Issue number2
Early online date27 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018