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ENGL 607.88: The Anthropocene Imaginary

Instructor: Dr. Pamela Banting
Schedule: Tuesday, 10:00-12:45

Course Description:

Climate change presents a profound historical rupture and threatens our very presumption of our own survival as individuals and our continuation as families, communities, regions, nations, and ultimately even as a species. In this course we will analyze what the Anthropocene is and how it is represented in contemporary theoretical, literary (fiction, nonfiction, poetry and possibly one play), filmic, and photographic texts. How might studying such representations advance our thinking about how to live in this rapidly unfolding epoch? What role can those of us in the Arts play in helping our fellow citizens comprehend this “long emergency” and forestall and mitigate widespread misery and catastrophe? When, collectively, humans – especially those of First World, capitalist nations – become agents of geological change, what happens to notions of individual agency and subjectivity, and how do we bring reconsiderations of such ideas into play in addressing climate change? What does agency mean, for instance, in light of the fact that we owe every second breath we take to plankton in the ocean, tiny creatures who face increasing difficulty in forming their shells in the acidified ocean? Is postmodernism’s privileging of a decentered and dispersed subjectivity a function, in part, of the literal and metaphorical mobility brought to us by seemingly unlimited fossil fuel networks and high-speed, long-distance transportation? In what ways are the anthropogenic planetary changes we are witnessing now different from a previous generation’s fears of war or nuclear annihilation? Will the future be nomadic or settled? Will we be vaulted back to the homestead era or projected forward into dystopias of the kind we read about in speculative fiction? How can we preserve the social justice gains we have achieved under the duress presented by climate change, ocean acidification and oxygen depletion, and mass extirpations and extinctions of fish, mammals, trees and other plants? What clues, insights and incitements can we draw from literature and theory to bring to necessary public conversations about surviving and maybe even thriving in retooled socio-environmental formations?

The theoretical questions raised will pertain to terminology (is it the anthropocene, the capitalocene, Donna Haraway’s chthulucene, the plasticene, climate change or Margaret Atwood’s “everything change”); concepts of matter, materiality, and bodies; subjects, objects and agency; denialism; energy; food; extirpation / extinction; system, grid and infrastructure; pollution and toxicity; plastic; elemental ecocriticism; resilience; action and activism.

Books and Assignments:

The following books have been ordered for the course: 

Sue Goyette, Ocean
Richard Powers, The Overstory
Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior
Gail Anderson-Dargatz, The Spawning Grounds
Adam Dickinson, Anatomic
Kathleen Dean Moore, Great Tide Rising

Additional individual critical-theoretical essays, podcasts and a couple of films will also be required texts.

Assignments will include writing a 500-word conference article proposal and an analytic essay as well as a selection of other assignments.