This course name and description ONLY applies to academic year 2021-2022

ENGL 13186-9: Post-Apocalyptic Fictions for Apocalyptic Times

Instructor: Chris Abram

The end of the world is a universal human obsession, and has been throughout history. But at particular moments in time, the apocalypse seems to capture our imaginations in particularly powerful ways. In the early twenty-first century, we are confronted with the potentially world-ending reality of climate change and mass extinction, as well as the still looming threat of nuclear war, untreatable pandemics, and other threats, both man-made and “natural.” In these perilous times, narrating possible apocalypses and imagining post-apocalyptic futures are a dominant strand of contemporary literature, film, and art. In this University Literature Seminar, we will read a variety of post-apocalyptic fictions in an attempt to understand the work this type of narrative does in cultures that are beset by crisis. Do they help us to prepare for the worst, or are they ways of displacing our anxieties about the trajectory of our society into the realm of fantasy? Are they calls to action or do they point to nihilistic acceptance of our fate as being the only rational response to the feeling that everything is falling apart. We will trace the history of the post-apocalyptic imaginary from ancient myths of Armageddon and Ragnarok, through early modern incarnations of the trope like Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and into contemporary novels such as Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne, Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. We will contextualize these fictions with theoretical work by authors like Timothy Morton, Andrew McMurray, and Notre Dame’s own Roy Scranton. Throughout, the political implications of imagining the world ending, ended, or about to end will be at the center of our analysis.