Writing after the End of the World
The Internet has given everyone with web access the opportunity to publish whatever they wish: blogs, vlogs, voice-over video game narrations, Instagram photo stories, fan fiction, anonymous commentary, even evidence of criminal activity. At the same time, streaming services have enabled new ways to engage with all this productivity: you can “binge” watch and “binge” listen to your choice of shows, movies, lectures, music, podcasts from a virtually infinite catalogue of options. And new forms of entertainment are emerging where you play an active role in shaping your own adventure. (In Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” episode, for example, the progress of the story depends on decisions the reader/viewer makes along the way with different choices leading to different endings.)
If you’re under twenty, this interactive, screen-centric world is likely the only world you’ve ever known. And for this reason, it may not be obvious that this world is fundamentally different from the paper-based world your parents and your teachers grew up in. Information is everywhere now; communication is instant and available 24/7; inner-connectivity is the coin of the realm. News, rumors, facts, fiction, truth, lies, conspiracy theories, doctored videos all vie for that scarcest of commodities in this new world: your attention.
We will spend the semester considering how the art of storytelling is changing as a result of the end of the paper-based world and the rise of the screen-centric world. We will work with a range of genres and literary forms—the serialized podcast, the televised episodic drama, the graphic novel, the documentary, poetry, and, of course, the novel. This project is inherently interdisciplinary. For example, when we read Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, a graphic novel about technological isolation, conspiracy theories, and the mass distribution of a live murder video, we must confront the challenge of reading text, image, and text and image together. (Sabrina is the first graphic novel ever to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize, one of the literary world’s most prestigious awards.) By embarking on explorations of this kind, we will be seeking answers to the course’s central question: what does “to read” mean now that we live in a screen-centric world?
Students from all schools and disciplines are welcome to sign up for this course. The course carries credit toward the major and minor in English. Writing after the End of the World can be used to meet the SAS Core Curriculum goals in Contemporary Challenges: Our Common Future (CC0) and Arts and Humanities [AHp].
Note: this is a 4-credit course, with lectures on Mondays and Thursdays and a smaller discussion section once a week. Attendance is required.