Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature: Utopia and the Environment

Course Number: ENGL 234
Prerequisites: Graduate Standing
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 234
Quarter: Winter 2011
Instructor: Shewry, Teresa
Day(s): W
Time: 12:00 PM - 2:50 PM
Location: SH 2714

Content of the course will vary from quarter to quarter and these courses may be repeated for credit with consent of the chair of the departmental graduate committee.

This course explores utopian experiments through which writers have sought to opt out of prevailing social and environmental conditions and to imagine and sustain different worlds. We will begin with two classical utopias, Thomas More’s Utopia and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, before considering the efforts of nineteenth century writers to envision alternatives to imperial environments and communities. Samuel Butler’s Erewhon and Herman Melville’s Typee, to varying degrees, experiment with politics of community that exceed normative borders often set up among species and peoples, and with the “well nigh utopian dignity” of indigenous peoples, islands, and vegetarians. Turning to the histories and ethics of deliberate environmental and social transformation and “development,” particularly in the global south, we will consider early-mid twentieth century writers (especially HG Wells and Julian Huxley) who create visions of scientific ecologists engineering and governing a new world social and ecological order. We will move briefly to “green” utopias of the 1970s, before considering the ways that writers outside of Europe and the United States (Keri Hulme, Albert Wendt) have recently taken up and transformed utopian form, sometimes in the direction of dystopia, stirring it together with indigenous concepts of time and space. Lastly, we will engage recent utopian fiction and film of water, an element which has almost always been deeply disturbing for utopians.

As well as considering the meanings, possibilities, and workings of utopia, we will look at the following utopian preoccupations throughout the course: the making of cross-cultural, transnational, and multi species communities and friendships; reconciling ecology and economy; utopia, the state, and empire; vegetarianism; utopias of (or against) science and technology; utopian islands and indigenous peoples; environmental and social engineering. Theoretical reading may include Peder Anker, Arturo Escobar, Charles Fourier, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Dohra Ahmad, Fredric Jameson, Leela Gandhi, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Tom Moylan.