Scenes from the Decline and Fall of the American Empire
At their zenith, empires become haunted by images of their inevitable demise. This article examines historical theories of imperial decline, as exemplified by the works of Edward Gibbon, C-F Volney and Oswald Spengler, and suggests a recurring concern with 'revolutionary orientalism' in such writings. The USA is currently in its late-imperial decadent phase, and much given in consequence to apocalyptic or catastrophic narratives. These are hardly new - the late-Victorian British Empire produced a large number of disaster fictions hardly less spectacular, with H G Wells foremost amongst his contemporary catastrophists - London is destroyed many hundreds of times in the period's fiction. The article closes with an analysis of 9/11 fictions and theories, and looks particularly at the novels of Don DeLillo and Jonathan Safran Foer.
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