Event/Eternal Recurrence of Evil in Stephen King’s 11/22/63

Activity: Talk or presentationConference presentation


In King’s suspense fiction, evil is “peopled” by stereotypes such as the abusive father, most notably in The Shining (1977) and It (1986). In 11/22/63, similar archetypes recur as America’s ineradicable everyday evils—to what extent, however, is evil so readily thinkable? My presentation will show how unexpected events with genuine historical impacts are willy-nilly deferred, suspended, in stories resorting to one template of horror, its effectiveness hinged upon its prescriptive (hence “diminutive”) representations of evil, all with predictable impacts on readers. Patterns of evil bring didactic significance to 11/22/63, where an all-knowing consciousness seems to orchestrate historical contingencies. A force of evil, perhaps the generally depressive atmosphere of America’s industrial cities, had paved the way for the assassination of Kennedy. The evil occurrence eventfully extinguished America’s imminent improvement (or so it was perceived by King), but in doing so, it has also inspired myriad utopian fantasies about what Kennedy would have done.

Drawing out the utopian potential of Kennedy’s unfinished presidency, the past unreal condition (in the novel a series of conditional sentences written in the past perfect tense) exemplifies the eventful; the patriotism it induces is palpable, even though it only appeals to the unrealized potential of the past and does not necessarily facilitate future progress. I will question the utopian significance of hypotheses premised on the abstract past unreal condition, especially if one conceives of each hypothesis as a structure of meaning more sociocultural than natural, or in 11/22/63, more a human-made event than something organic. It appears to me that, in King’s time-travel narrative, history is necessarily circumscribed by nationalistic essentialisms (e.g. JFK’s model of patriarchy) or some such diminutive forms of evil—which, in turn, deny the possibility that subversive actions can trigger radical historical contingencies.
Period15 Aug 202319 Aug 2023
Held atthe Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) and the German Association for Research in the Fantastic (GfF)
Degree of RecognitionInternational