Topics in Literature : Life After the End of the World

Course Number: ENGL 165EW
Prerequisites: Check on GOLD
Advisory Enrollment Information: May be repeated for credit providing letter designations are different.
General Education Areas Fulfilled: Check on GOLD
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 165AA-ZZ
Quarter: Winter 2013
Day(s): MW
Time: 3:30 - 4:45 PM
Location: GIRV 2116

One of our primary concerns in post-9/11 America is "security" — the attempt to stabilize and maintain our traditional way of life in the face of internal and external threats. This course examines literary and filmic representations of life after catastrophic failures of this attempt to keep "life" moving forward along the tracks that we expect it to move. Some of the catastrophes we will examine include plague (Saramago's Blindness, Boyle's 28 Days Later), nuclear holocaust (McCarthy's The Road), changes in ecosystem balance (Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, Atwood's Oryx and Crake), and unexplained alterations to the metaphysical structure of life itself (Romero's Dawn of the Dead).

As we examine the lives of survivors of these various apocalypses and the ways that their lives and societies change, we will be concerned with a number of recurring themes: How do we understand our own world and its precarious construction through the imagination of its end? To what extent do our normal systems of meaning and ethics depend on (usually unstated) assumptions about the way that our world is organized? What do these texts ask us to understand about "human nature" and what it might mean to abandon our traditional understandings of it? How does the experience of horror in the face of a book or a film denote the limits of permissible thought? How do texts that push us to the limit of what we can tolerate emotionally help us to think our way around or past what we normally conceive of us the limits of human thought? And, finally, how might these fictitious disasters come about, and how might they have be avoided in the first place?
Grading will involve two papers, a final exam, and a series of moderately easy reading quizzes in lieu of a midterm. A draft of the course syllabus is available at

Once this course is full/closed, you can sign up to the wait list at:

Students on the wait-list must attend the first day of lecture/section to enroll in the course. For more information see the English Department Crash Policy.