English 233 - Spring, 2015

Problems in American Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Ziser, Michael
CRN: 32742
Time: R 3:10-6:00
Location: 120 Voorhies
Breadth: Later American
Focus: Interdiscipline, Theory


    Recent discussions of both global climate change and declining oil reserves have brought into high relief the dependence of our modernity on a massive and precarious fossil-fuel subsidy. In this seminar we will work together to construct a correspondent cultural archive of and approach to fossil-fuel texts encompassing 19th and 20th-century writing about coal and oil production, postwar work on the glories of combustion, and the mixed reactions to the oil shocks and carbon crises of the last 35 years. The majority of the readings will be drawn from the American context—central as our civilization is to the rise of petroculture—but we will also pay some attention to European antecedents and parallels and to postcolonial reflections from Africa and the Middle East. Relevant films may be screened throughout the quarter.

    Seminar participants will be allowed and encouraged to adapt the research project to their own period and interests.


    Weekly short writing assignments 20%
    Discussion Leading 10%
    Extra Research Presentation 10%
    Annotated Bibliography 10%
    Final essay (conference length) 35%
    Conference presentation 15%


    King Coal, Upton Sinclair
    Oil!, Upton Sinclair
    Mean Spirit, Linda Hogan
    Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil, Wallace Stegner
    Cities of Salt, Abdelrahman Munif
    Dune, Frank Herbert
    Cyclonopedia, Reza Negarestani
    The Road, Cormac McCarthy
    Carbon Democracy, Timothy Mitchell
    Killing for Coal, Thomas Andrews
    Bataille's Peak, Alan Stoekl
    The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler
    Germinal, Emile Zola
    Oil Culture, Barrett and Worden, eds.