- Course Number: ENGL 236
- Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 236
- Quarter: Winter 2021
This seminar studies waste, junk, garbage from an environmental, social, and theoretical perspective. As a response to the dangers of climate change and excessive pollution of the Wasteocene, the critical analysis of waste has recently emerged as a field of cultural and literary analysis that brings to the fore issues of materiality, nature, catastrophe, but also of aesthetics, value production and destruction, purity vs. hybridity, and order vs. disorder. Waste is first of all what is produced in excess by consumer culture, and as such needs to be put out of sight, disposed of, or recycled. In this perspective, waste brings to the fore questions of exclusion and marginality. This same logic of exclusion is often referred to people who are considered as disposable by dominant culture. The anthropologist Mary Douglas famously defined waste as “matter out of place” which, because of its contiguity with dirt, contagion, danger, and abjection, threatens the existing order of things. Yet space is not the only category through which waste can be understood. The obsolete and the useless, for example, indicate that waste and junk exist in time as well, as the presence of ruins and ruination in the apocalyptic imaginary makes clear. What is the power of the obsolete? (Think of Walter Benjamin’s and the Surrealists’ view of the outmoded). Can waste can be theorized as not simply something to be contained and discarded, but also as a means of dissent and resistance? The texts we will read and watch will address the different aspects of the problematic of waste. Topics for discussion will include modernism and the modernist avant-garde’s interest in junk and the outmoded (Benjamin, Aragon, Barnes, Beckett); minimalism, hoarding, and decluttering; Junkspace; environmental disaster; plastic art; kitsch and the aesthetic of disgust; contagion, sanitation, asepsis; the miasmic city (the slum) and the “clean” suburbs; abject femininity and outlaw feminism (Valerie Solanas and the SCUM Manifesto). Texts by Djuna Barnes, Samuel Beckett, Elfriede Jelinek, Indra Sinha, Ben Lerner, Ivan Klima. Films by Agnés Varda, Alfonso Cuarón, Lucy Walker and Viktor Muniz, John Waters, Juliang Wang, Gianfranco Rosi, and Ken Loach. Criticism by John Scanlan, Susan Strausser, Mel Chen, Gay Hawkins Sianne Ngai, Italo Calvino, José Luis Pardo, Rem Koolhaas.