English 188A - Spring, 2015

Topics in Literary & Critical Theory

    Topic: Aesthetics and Environmental Risk

Class Information

Instructor: Hsu, Hsuan
CRN: 32552
Time: MW 12:10-1:30
Location: 248 Voorhies


    Today we don’t just live in toxic environments--we are born with toxins in our cells, we ingest chemicals and absorb radiation, & we all must learn to navigate and manage environmental risks. At the same time, our perceptions of invisible and multiple risk factors are highly subjective and dependent on both scientific research and cultural narratives. Not only are risks distributed unevenly across different spaces and communities, but different people perceive risks differently and have different resources for avoiding or mitigating risk factors. This class will look at how writers in different "risky" places (such as agricultural fields sprayed with pesticides, nuclear test sites, and neighborhoods located near toxic waste) represent chemical and radioactive pollutants through diverse genres including nature writing, monster movies, science fiction, and memoir. Through close analysis of texts from Polynesia, South Korea, India, and different US communities, we'll discuss how authors have experimented with aesthetic techniques in an effort to make invisible risks perceptible and meaningful. Along with a range of novels, poems, and visual media, our understanding of risk will also draw on theoretical discussions of risk by social scientists and literary critics such as Ulrich Beck, Bruce Braun, Stacy Alaimo, and Rob Nixon.


    short essay: 20%
    longer essay: 40%
    quizzes, reflection papers, participation: 20%
    final exam: 20%


    Risk Society, Ulrich Beck
    Under the Feet of Jesus, Helena Maria Viramontes
    Watershed, Percival Everett
    Bodily Natures, Stacy Alaimo
    Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
    Body Toxic, Susanna Antonetta
    Safe, Todd Haynes
    Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Rob Nixon