English 149-1 - Spring, 2015

Topics in Literature

    Topic: End-Time Narrative

Class Information

Instructor: Menely, Tobias
CRN: 32537
Time: MWF 11:00-11:50
Location: 290 Gym


    End-Time Narratives, from Apocalypsis to Zombies

    "Apocalypse" derives from the Greek "apocalypsis," which means unveiling, and this is one sense in which the Revelation of John, the final book of the New Testament, is an apocalypse narrative, a story about reading the signs of the times, the disclosure of God’s plan regarding the fate of human beings. Of course, Revelation is also an exemplary narrative of apocalypse because it prophesizes the End Times, the cataclysms that bring about the conclusive destruction of earthly life. In this course, as we move from scriptural eschatology to contemporary zombie narratives, we’ll consider the tension between these two meanings of apocalypse: as mediation, as catastrophe. We’ll ask why end-time narratives are so often fixated on media forms: a billboard advertisement in the post-apocalyptic city, a radio transmission broadcasting to a de-peopled planet, the disaster films that anticipate the actual “last night.” We’ll think about the way in which post-apocalypse narratives stage fantasies of survival and pose unresolvable questions about the purpose of human existence and the place of human beings on Earth. In general, we‘ll confront the fascinating compulsion to think the unthinkablity of human extinction and non-being. In addition to the Revelation of John, we’ll read plague narratives by Daniel Defoe (_A Journal of the Plague Year_, 1722) and Mary Shelley (_The Last Man_, 1826); M.P. Shiel’s weird fiction of inexplicable climatological catastrophe (_The Purple Cloud_, 1901); George Stewart’s novel of an ecologist in post-apocalyptic California (_Earth Abides_, 1949); Colson Whitehead’s zombie narrative (_Zone One_, 2011); and Emily St. John Mandel’s novel about the precarious perseverance of art after the apocalypse (_Station Eleven_, 2014).


    Two essays; online discussion forum; final exam


    Journal of the Plague Year, Defoe
    The Last Man, Shelley
    The Purple Cloud, Shiel
    Earth Abides, Stewart
    Zone One, Whitehead
    Station Eleven, Mandel