It's going to be a great course!
At least, it's going to be great once you help me finish building it in Google Docs, and then once it's open, I hope you'll either sign up or hang out with us.
|Image from Planetary|
When I proposed the course, I had some ideas about where to take the course, and about what books I might want to read with the course's students, but I always knew that I wanted to let the course evolve. This post is the first step in building a learning community in and around "The End of the Human," within our Environmental Humanities research group. Let me give you some details, for background, and at the bottom I'll post a link to Google Docs that you can edit yourself.
When you propose teaching a variable-content course, you have to offer up both a calendar description (no more than 75 words, in phrases) and a course guide description (no more than 100 words, in sentences). No, I don't know the history of those distinct requirements. Here are those pieces:
Calendar: "A study of fictional representations of human extinction, primarily in science fiction and film, emphasizing contemporary discourses of crisis, collapse, and apocalypse. Considers the alternative responses of hope and despair, resistance and stoicism. Connects literary studies with such disciplines as political science, cultural geography and environmental studies."
Course Guide: "The near-extinction of humanity has been depicted in past eras, though this idea has taken on greater urgency in our time. Over the last two decades, anxieties about human extinction have been represented regularly in graphic novels like Y: The Last Man; films like I Am Legend; and novels like Atwood's Oryx and Crake, McCarthy's The Road, or Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, many of which have also been released as films. The threat of extinction imagined by these works has come from numerous causes, too, most often from disease but also from nuclear war, asteroids, and technological advances gone wrong (especially genetic manipulation). What is it about our contemporary condition that makes stories and theories of humanity's end so compelling – and what can we learn from extinction fiction as we head into an intensifying period of climate change?"Extra Background
At bottom, I'm not interested in teaching this course as a conventional lecture plus discussions. As such, I offered to start with double the usual class size; to allow all waitlisted students, if there are any, to enroll in the course; and to integrate the course with a Continuing Studies offering.
Similarly, I'm not keen on grading nothing as conventional as several dozen essays of literary criticism, so I proposed allowing digital or multimedia projects for one of the assignments. As time has gone on, I'm thinking about requiring students to research possible scenarios for human extinction, as one way of encouraging students to involve in this course their expertise from outside English: climate change, nuclear fallout, genetically modified organisms, biological warfare, and so on.
Talk to me in the comments area about assignments, but I'd LOVE to read some papers by pre-med students about epidemic-style apocalypse texts (like George Stewart's Earth Abides, or the 1995 movie Outbreak), or by biology students about the portrayal of genetic experimentation in Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy or the 2009 movie Splice.
Finally, I had to propose a list of possible texts, but I don't have to order the texts until the fall. Here's that original list, six novels first and then three theory texts to draw from, but I'm hoping readers will visit Google Docs to suggest better options:
- Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake: genetic manipulation, disease epidemic
- PD James, Children of Men: global human infertility
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road: unexplained death from above, plus cannibalism
- Mary Shelley, The Last Man: rampaging plague
- Nevil Shute, On the Beach: nuclear fallout after a global war
- George R. Stewart, Earth Abides: disease epidemic
- Ulrich Beck, World at Risk: sociological analyses of how societies respond to concepts of risk
- Mike Davis, The Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster
- Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times: Zizekian verve on diverse subjects