Although it’s been out for a little while now, I’ve only just stumbled across and read James Howard Kunstler’s novel World Made by Hand, after it was recommended by a visitor to this website. Kunstler wrote The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century, an analysis of the likely societal effects as we reach depletion of fossil fuels, and has been thinking long and hard about the challenges of a post-oil future.
‘World Made by Hand’ is the first book in a series of novels set in a post-apocalyptic world, beginning an unspecified number of decades after collapse. The majority of humanity has succumbed to a combo-whammy of terrorist nuclear bombs devastating major US cities, global pandemics, resource wars and climate change. Small surviving communities have regressed to simpler means, living off locally-grown food and relearning skills of self-sufficiency and home production – the central character was once a business executive but now plies his trade as a carpenter.
The Knowledge attempts to provide a guide to the fundamental principles and processes that underlie our civilisation, and so how to rebuild from scratch if you ever needed to. But trying to rebuild civilisation and resurrect practical skills purely from the knowledge contained in a guide book would be a huge challenge, no matter how extensive it might be. Tasks are achieved not just by knowing the correct information, but also by possessing the required practical skills.
Diderot recognised this short-falling in the mid-1700s and so attempted to preserve not just facts in his encyclopaedia but also the practical or manual skills needed in carpentry, weaving and mining, for example, in detailed engravings. While a picture may well be a worth a thousand words, how can you hope to capture the subtlety of the dextrous motions required for, say, carpentry in just a few images or even a video? Achieving the required ability can take years of apprenticeship, under the tutelage of an already-proficient craftsman.
This is the problem of implicit or tacit knowledge; something you may know how to do yourself, but would find extremely challenging, if not impossible, to successfully convey to someone else in just words or pictures.
One of the things I’ve been on the look-out for is a ruggedised, shock-proof, water-proof e-reader that you could load-up with all of the most useful texts and documents, and keep re-charged indefinitely with an integrated solar panel.
Well, meet Earl.
Earl is described by the developers as a backcountry survival tablet, and is absolutely stuffed with practical functionality. If civilisation ever were to collapse, you’re certainly going to want to have one of these in your pocket.
As is clear through-out The Knowledge, one of the fundamental drivers for a vibrant civilisation is its finesse in harnessing thermal energy. Fire is used for everything from cooking food to unlock nutrients and kill pathogens, to roasting lime for mortar and rebuilding, smelting metals and forging iron tools, and creating many of the fundamental substances that society replies upon. Whilst the book isn’t a survival manual with wilderness skills, starting a fire is an interesting problem and charcloth makes the ideal tinder. Charcloth is made by carbonising cloth using the heat of a fire; it’s analogous to charcoal produced from carbonised wood. And the beauty of this, from the point of view of pulling yourself by your own bootstraps, is that once you’ve started one fire you can create charcloth and use that to greatly simplify starting all other fires from then on.
Charcloth is perfect for not just catching sparks from flint and steel, but its blackened surface is also ideally-suited for absorbing heat and igniting from sunlight focussed with a pair of glasses or other lens (or even a coke can or bottle of water as explained in my How-To video here).
Quite a niche category, sure, but here are the best apocalyptic comedy films. A wonderful combination of silliness, dark humour and painfully awkward social situations at the end of the world…
Many of the core themes of The Knowledge deal with the traditional crafts and expertise that used to be prevalent in the recent past, but are lamentably sliding into obscurity today. ‘Another Escape‘ is a fascinating new magazine that explores many of these areas.
The delights in this current issue (Volume Three) include: international efforts to construct comprehensive seed banks; how the threads of the lumberjack shirt weave their way back through time and across cultures; how the essential oils are extracted out of plants to make perfumes; reviving the ancient art of Korean paper-making (pictured below); coppicing woodlands for sustainable timber supply; the skill of colliers in creating charcoal; and bamboo-framed bicycles.
‘Another Escape’ is a British-published magazine, but has a truly global outlook in the eclectic topics it features. The magazine is a feast for the eyes as well, and the accompanying illustrations and photography are absolutely gorgeous.
See the Another Escape website for more details and to place a subscription.
The collapse of civilisation and loss of the majority of humanity is the starting point for the thought experiment in The Knowledge. The Introduction explores what sort of world the survivors of the cataclysm might find themselves in, and the challenges they’d face thriving in the immediate aftermath and striving to rebuild civilisation from the ground up. The book touches upon many tropes of post-apocalyptic literature and cinema, which are expanded upon elsewhere in this website (e.g. best post-apocalyptic movies, best post-apocalpytic books, post-apocalyptic art, ruin photography). In this guest blog post, Emma Anne James (Twitter) takes a closer, analytical look at the body of American post-apocalyptic films – their common themes, key differences, and problems with their underlying ideals. Emma is a postgraduate researcher in the Department of History of Art and Film, University of Leicester, writing her PhD thesis on this very topic. Also see Emma’s comprehensive list of 78 post-apocalyptic films from the last 80 years of cinema history.
Emma Anne James (Twitter) is a PhD researcher at the University of Leicester, writing her thesis on the critical analysis of post-apocalyptic cinema. She has written a guest post for The Knowledge website discussing the tropes and common themes, as well as the implicit assumptions within them, of these post-apocalyptic films. Here, she provides for us her exhaustive list of 78 American post-apocalyptic films released in the eighty-year period between 1933 and 2013. This includes absolute classics like On the Beach, some truly awful films like Creepozoids, and all three incarnations of The Planet of the Apes narrative (1968, 2001, 2011).
Emma’s research focuses on films released after 1968, and doesn’t include zombie flicks for various reasons including their general status as apocalyptic rather than post-apocalyptic films (see here for her definitions on this). She also includes a few films that have another type of narrative, but contain a very significant post-apocalyptic aspect in the film (for example, the last third of A.I. is significant for its iconographic and thematic use of a post-apocalyptic setting).
Here, then, is Emma’s complete list of post-apocalyptic films. How many have you already seen…?