John Encarnacao, who lectures in music at Western Sydney University, has written a fascinating article that looks at Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve through the lens of American culture and politics of both the 1970s and today. Published in Overland, Encarnacao’s article, entitled ‘Angela Carter, Donald Trump and the American Nightmare’, begins by postulating a link between “the surprise of Trump’s victory” in the recent U.S. election and Carter’s 1977 novel The Passion of New Eve: namely, “the idea that an Englishwoman may have predicted [this election’s] aftermath 40 years previously”. This thought occurred to Encarnacao because, by what he calls “some kind of cosmic synergy”, he happened to finish reading Carter’s text in the week that Trump was elected. Just as Carter drew on social struggles in the U.S. during the 1960s and early 1970s to create narrative in which the “fissures of American society have broken it completely apart”, so Encarnacao suggests that this narrative might as well characterise similar struggles and breakdowns in recent years, symbolised most potently by Trump’s surprising success.
Although The Passion of New Eve is centrally concerned with the performance of gender, Encarnacao usefully reminds readers that the backdrop of the narrative is civil war and the breakdown of U.S. society. The novel’s protagonist, Evelyn, begins his voyage across North America in a New York rife with garbage and rats, street violence and general anarchy. And from here, things only get worse as Evelyn encounters numerous cults and gangs along his journey.
“Evelyn encounters a series of bizarre enclaves after a road trip to the desert. Each is a radical imagining of extreme ideology made flesh and lived large.”
As Encarnacao goes on to explain,
“the reader is invited to consider a variety of scenarios in which individuals willingly subscribe to ideology. Misandrist feminism, tyrannical patriarchy, the militarisation of religious youth, and even the delusion of self-creation […] – each is a different manifestation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, usually coupled with the Second. The final section of the book finds Eve in a California that has seceded from the Union, where various factions are at war to control the State.”
From here, the article then goes on to consider other dystopian novels, such as Elizabeth Hand’s Glimmering, (1997) David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, (2004) and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, (2003). As he suggests, “[a]ll three are useful in thinking through why Carter’s New Eve might be a particularly apt cautionary tale for the emerging Trump World Order.”
Later in the article, Encarnacao considers parallels between the 1960s and 1970s, and today’s world of Trump, Brexit and rising nationalist politics in many parts of the world. In both historical moments, he suggests, “we see a layering of opportunity and the threat of repression; the articulation of widely accepted, or at least patronised, ideals of inclusivity and equality in conflict with the brutal indifference of free market economics.” And it is this that is perhaps the reason that Carter’s representation of America in The Passion of New Eve resonates so strongly with the fears that many people share in today’s world.
I would like to thank Feroze Alam for permission to use his fantastic ‘Trump Demon’. Please head over to his website at http://alampadam.com/ and have a browse of his wonderful work.