This Submerged Sunrise: Postapocalyptic Fiction and the Spirit of Holy Saturday
David Baird

G.K. Chesterton, the English man of letters Robert Wild has recently described as a ‘lay mystic,’ writes in his autobiography about an early discovery that ‘The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair might suddenly understand that he was actually alive, and be happy.’ Counterintuitively, perhaps, this realization came during what might have been the darkest period of his life, amidst an immersion in the highly subjective style of painting fashionable during his formal study at London’s Slade School of Fine Art. His reversion in this context to ‘a sort of mystical minimum of gratitude’ bears many parallels to what the religious mystics Sts. John of the Cross and Teresa of Calcutta describe as the dark night of the soul consonant with Our Lord’s cry of dereliction from the Cross. Such a profound sense of estrangement from Being, in Paul Tillich’s terms, that continues into the experience of Holy Saturday, according to Hans Urs von Balthasar, is also arguably presupposed by the structure of many postapocalyptic fictions. This paper argues that a comparable kind of ‘zero point’ marks many of these stories, where a stripping back to essentials at both the individual and societal levels is the precursor to a kind of renewed vision of hope. As such, fictions like Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies might be interpreted to provide narrative corollaries to the subjective experience of faith in a fallen world, where profound experiences of darkness, disintegration and death often accompany the real participation in divine life only under the crepuscular conditions of history.


David Baird studied English Literature at Wheaton College and then philosophy and theology at the University of Oxford where he was also president of the university’s C.S. Lewis Society. His wrote his masters dissertation at the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St. Andrews on the implicit metaphysics in G.K. Chesterton’s early writings, and recently defended his doctoral thesis on the theological significance of postapocalyptic fiction. This autumn he will begin as an assistant professor at Catholic Pacific College.