One of the most powerful and influential narratives in Western culture is the apocalyptic plot, derived from Christian eschatology, which describes the transition from a polluted, fallen world to a pure, crystalline millennium. This transition involves a protracted period of suffering and catastrophes known as the Tribulations.
The apocalyptic plot expresses a linear, teleological concept of temporality, in which chronology supersedes duration. It constitutes a common feature of many ostensibly disparate political and cultural phenomena: from Christian fundamentalism to radical Islam; from disaster movies to ecological nightmares.
This paper analyzes the apocalyptic interplay of narrative chronology and duration by discussing J. G. Ballard's Four Elements Quartet -- The Wind from Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962), The Drought (1964), and The Crystal World (1966). Each novel presents a version of the apocalypse linked to one of the four traditional elements: air, water, fire, and earth. But their real focus is not on apocalyptic chronology but on catastrophic duration. They illuminate the postmodern fascination with the apocalypse as an aesthetic experience, while questioning its ideological premises.
Ballard's novels expose the apocalyptic desire that animates so much of postmodern experience of time and history. Ballard's catastrophic duration challenges the ideological constructions of the apocalyptic plot, whether in religious millenarianism or in secular utopianism, and opposes them with a focus on corporeal experience and psychic endurance. Both thematically and structurally, the Four Elements Quartet resonates with Albert Camus' anti-millenarian statement: "Don't wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day."