English 149 - Spring, 2023

Introductory Topics in Fiction

Topic: Literature and Social Crisis

Class Information

Instructor: Jerng, Mark
CRN: 62252
Time: MWF 12:10-1:00
Location: 6 Olson


(Note: This course will be co-taught by Mark Jerng and Sharada Balachandran-Orihuela)

"We live in a time of crisis." From economic leaders contemplating the breakdown of the world economy, to environmental activists contemplating the catastrophic effects of climate change, to world leaders coming to grips with a state of "endless war," this statement has been echoed and felt repeatedly across the first decade of the twenty-first century. But how does one understand, grasp, and relate to a social crisis that purportedly changes, has changed, or will change everything - our social structures; our physical environments; our ways of thinking and behaving? This course explores how literature and film represent social crisis and how they are impacted by it. Authors and filmmakers do not simply respond to or reflect a social crisis: the work of representation shapes how we perceive a crisis, provides the forms and aesthetics through which they are read and understood. Likewise, an event such as the financial meltdown of the past year or 9/11 is not simply a singular event, but a textual reality, something that lives on and gets transformed, transmitted, and circulated through images, words, and forms of narration. We will focus throughout on this shifting and complex relationship between the construction of narration and the construction of world, the difficulty and necessity of relating our relationship to social crisis and change. After first contemplating how narrative and the imagination of the "end" are inextricably linked through the question of apocalypse, we will move through several distinct social crises or debates that have transformed and continue to transform our world: U.S-Mexico border negotiation and ongoing debates over immigration; the end of apartheid in South Africa; Hurricane Katrina; the ethics of biomedical interventions; the L.A. race riots. We will think specifically about how forms or modes such as confession and testimony, documentary filmmaking, science fiction, and theatrical performance stage distinct understandings of and ethical responses to our times of radical crisis. Our goals here are not to be comprehensive of all possible social crises, but to understand how some key issues or events are shaped through literature, and to work on developing strategies for analyzing them.


Tropic of Orange, Karen Tei Yamashita
David's Story, Zoe Wicomb
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Life in the Wake, NOLA
Twilight: Los Angeles, Anna Deavere Smith
Film: District 9, Neill Blomkamp (dir.)
Film: The Road, John Hillcoat (dir.)
Film: Sleep Dealer, Alex Rivera (dir.)