Summer 2018 Undergraduate English Courses

358:383 Reading at the End of the World: Postcolonial Literature in the Age of Ecological Disasters

H1  7/9-8/15  CAC  MTWTH 1030 AM-1220  04331  BOSWELL  AB-2150

Reading at the End of the World: Postcolonial Literature in the Age of Ecological Disasters

Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Jose. Typhoon Haiyan. Oil Spills in the Nigerian Delta. The Bhophal Gas Leak. Toxic waste dumping in the Caribbean ocean. Heat waves in India. The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. Entire towns underwater during Bangladesh’s floods. Virtually every day brings a new environmental catastrophe, a new indication of the way the world is becoming less habitable. How does fiction deal with a natural world that breaking out of human control? What does it mean to tell stories when the end of the world seems to be upon upon us - not in a hundred years, but right now? The era seems to demand a serious literature to handle a serious problem. Yet the fiction from the regions most impacted by these catastrophes - the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Asia - flout this expectation. The fiction of environmental catastrophe teems with aliens, vampires, jujutech, digital worlds, Gods messing with cybersecurity, animal-human hybrids, robots, ghosts, devouring forests and, of course, zombies. Postcolonial fiction about ecological disasters, it turns out,  is not primarily found in serious literature, or “literary fiction.” Why not? What narrative possibilities do ecological disasters close - or open up?

This course will explore some of the ways that postcolonial fiction, as well as fiction writ large, responds to a world that feels like it is ending, and a nature that no longer plays by expected rules. In our work, we will pay particular attention to authors’ use of genre fiction and conventions, including science fiction, horror, fantasy, comedy, comic books, film and literary fiction. The fiction of environmental disaster promises the thrills of massive destruction; it also aspires to activism and narrative innovation. What happens when these two poles come into tension? How can zombies, horror stories and aliens fit into a desire for activism and social change? Is it even possible to write fiction about the end of the world - and why would you want to? Where does our desire to read about the apocalypse come from? We will pursue these and other questions to consider how fiction today imagines the human’s place in the ecological sphere.

Our primary texts will likely come from some of the following authors and films: Nnedi Okorafor, Margaret Atwood, Pedro Cabiya, Jamaica Kincaid, Yoss, Jeff Vandermeer, Ben Okri, Amitav Gosh, Indra Sinha, N.K. Jemisin, Alyssa Wong, Princess Mononoke, The Girl with All the Gifts and The Host. While our primary concern will be for postcolonial spaces and concerns, we will reserve time to contrast the postcolonial with the local environment and the literature thereof: the swamplands of New Jersey.