English 149 - Winter, 2017

Topics in Literature

    Topic: Anthropocene Fiction

Class Information

Instructor: Menely, Tobias
CRN: 22896
Time: TR 12:10-1:30
Location: 1128 Hart


    "Anthropocene Fictions, from the Deluge to the California Drought"

    In this seminar, we’ll read fictions—mythic, realist, speculative, and downright weird—of the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which humans have inadvertently modified the Earth System, most significantly by altering the climate. We’ll discuss stories in which flood and drought, strange weather and changing ecosystems shape the action, requiring characters to reimagine themselves, their communities, and their futures. We’ll begin with an ancient myth of planetary cataclysm, the Deluge narrative in Genesis. This will help us to define one of our central questions: how is collectivity redefined in catastrophe? Who is allowed to board the ark? We’ll then read Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), the first novel to imagine a human creation capable of destroying humankind, and Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962), one of the earliest fictions to foresee a planet altered by human-caused global warming. In the second half of the quarter, we’ll read four recent “CliFi” novels, three of which are set in a future California.

    Throughout the quarter, we’ll consider what happens when setting and plot, environment and human action, become indistinguishable. We’ll discuss techno-utopianism, solarpunk, monkey-wrenching, environmental racism, reproductive futurity, and the fate of democracy. We’ll think about how literary genre responds to geo-historical change, as with the emergence of climate fiction. We’ll ask how narrative form organizes time: memory and anticipation, slow violence and cataclysmic rupture, the conjunction of geological and historical timescales. We’ll reflect on the emotional dimensions of climate change: denial, dread, and hope. Above all, we’ll ask how Anthropocene fiction helps us to imagine our shared planetary future, the era taking shape—with increasing rapidity—in our lifetimes.

    Primary Texts: Genesis 6-9; Shelley, Frankenstein; Ballard, The Drowned World; Butler, Parable of the Sower; Boyle, A Friend of the Earth; Kingsolver, Flight Behavior; Watkins, Gold Fame Citrus

    Critical and reflective writing by Amitav Ghosh, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roy Scranton, Jedediah Purdy, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, and Zadie Smith


    Two analytical essays: 50%
    Online Forum: 30%
    Final Exam: 20%


    Course Reader
    Frankenstein, Shelley
    The Drowned World, Ballard
    Parable of the Sower, Butler
    A Friend of the Earth, Boyle
    Flight Behavior, Kingsolver
    Gold Fame Citrus, Watkins