Dystopian Fiction

dystopia

LIT4001: Dystopian Fiction Works of dystopian literature often imagines bleak, post-apocalyptic futures that are controlled by totalitarian regimes, subjugated by technology run amok, devastated by environmental disaster, or blighted by plague and/or all manners of contagion. As negative as these imagined worlds might be, however, they nevertheless manage to do productive, even positive, cultural work in our own. By focusing on and exaggerating contemporary problems—by making a space for them—dystopian fiction has the potential to open up new frontiers in the real world. Our emphasis throughout this upper division class will be how this potential manifests in a variety of literary texts and cultural objects.

Literature and the Environment

Literary and artistic expressions of the American landscape reveal panoramas of breathtaking natural beauty, but they also help illuminate panoplies of political and aesthetic ideologies that have shifted dramatically over time.  Literary and artistic representations of the environment, in other words, have much to teach us about our selves, our individual and collective beliefs, our history as a nation, and, perhaps most importantly, our possibilities for a global future.

litandenvironment

Utopia

Fredric Jameson’s Archaeology of the Future: the Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (2007) articulates the central concern of this graduate seminar: “In an age of globalization characterized by the dizzying technologies of the First World, and the social disintegration of the Third, is the concept of utopia still meaningful?” The short answer to this question is “yes.”  The longer one will require us to take an unconventional critical approach to the form.  While recent scholarship about dys/u/eu/topoi has tended to focus on the manner in which utopian literature forms a response to the political events of its time—e.g., Plato’s commentary upon the Athenian polis in the Republic, Thomas More’s response to the Reformation in Utopia, Jonathan Swift’s commentary upon the contentious political climate in post-Civil War England in Gulliver’s Travels, Ernst Bloch’s visions within the context of early Marxism and Fredric Jameson’s in the context of advanced capitalism—in this graduate seminar we will consider of equal importance the expression of place. The words “utopia” and “dystopia,” after all, are directly traceable to the Greek term topos, or “place”—a skewed place in the case of the dystopia, and a non-existent (but good) one in the case of the utopia. Our particular emphasis will be upon the remarkable fact that utopian works create places and spaces within fictional worlds that help open up new frontiers in our own. By examining the adjacency between fictive and real-world spaces and places, we shall be able to assess the continued relevance of this important literary form.

 

utopia

New Cyborg Theory

 

This graduate seminar focuses on works of science fiction and fantasy that complicate conceptions of what it means to be human, what it means to be animal, and what it means to be technological by blurring the boundaries that have traditionally separated these categories.

cyborgs

Creative Writing Science Fiction

CRW4930 is a course on the writing of short, literary science fiction.  Although science fiction as a whole tends to exhibit certain generic patterns and honors certain conventions—Martians! Robots! Little green men!—writing literary sf means not succumbing to clichéd, formula-based writing that fails to pay attention to language and originality. Instead, writing literary sf entails learning to hone your creative craft all while paying heed to additional constraints. Class time is split between analyzing published work and workshopping student writing.

Still shot from Fiend without a Face (1958), a film based loosely on Amelia Reynold’s Long’s “The Thought Monster” (Weird Tales, 1930)  (aka what not to do when writing literary sf).

 

Mediums and Messages

Much of the discussion coming out of the field of the Digital Humanities focuses upon how “the” new media are changing the ways we communicate, the ways we express ourselves, and the ways we understand new and old modes of expression. There are several problems with this emphasis. In the first place, it treats new media as a monolithic entity, when they are instead a diverse collection of cultural and technological practices. Secondly, by granting agency to new media, it participates implicitly in untenable ideas of technological determinism. Finally, and most importantly, it neglects the fact that human beings and human bodies have always formed integral parts of expressive communication technologies. By switching the focus from “media” to “mediums,” a word that signifies both human and technological conduits of information, and by tracing the way human beings have participated in circuits of communication from antiquity to today, “Mediums and Messages” offers a corrective to this trend by foregrounding the manner in which we are all imbricated in practices of communication, digital or otherwise.

 

mediums

Self Dot Net

Starting with the premise that traditionally cherished notions about subjectivity and selfhood have shifted since Classical and Enlightenment thought, this course examines how network technologies of the current age can be seen as co-extensive with representations of identity in contemporary aesthetic works. Through an analysis of various examples drawn from cinema, literature, philosophy, and digital art, we will consider the possibility of a “networked self” and interrogate what might be constitutive of such an entity.

selfdotnet

Robots

This course will consider robots, robotics, and artificial intelligence in literature and art, in order to explore the following questions: What distinguishes artificial intelligence from human intelligence? What distinguishes the artificially-constructed robot body from the human form? How has the increased computational power of the current age impinged (or not) upon notions of subjectivity and identity? What cultural anxieties and optimisms about mechanization play out in expressions of robotics and AI in literature and film? What, in the final analysis, distinguishes the human animal from its mechanized metallic progeny—or are we, as Andy Clark suggests in his latest book, “natural-born cyborgs”?

 

robots

Data Made Flesh

In addition to providing a general introduction to literary study, this course will seek and explore connections between literature and technology, with special emphasis paid to issues of identity in the Age of Information. Through a close reading of a broad range of literary forms, including comic books, novels, short fiction, poetry, and hyper-linked meta-texts, we will consider the role technology plays in our conception of human being, as well as how our conception of human being shapes and influences our technology. In light of this guiding consideration, we will discuss and question techno-textual representations and manifestations of things such as memory, gender, information, science, consciousness, and embodiment.

datamadeflesh