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Literature and Science: Futures Past

ENGL 049.001
MWF 1:00 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major


This course will explore some of the intersections between literature and science.  Both shape worlds with their own specific language and describe it in minute detail. Both rely on finding patterns of thought and styles of explanation that reveal some inner truth about their worlds. However, science and literature are often at odds with each other, constantly vying for cultural relevance and supremacy. Scientific theories offer critical purchase on a material world through processes of decision-making that cement epistemologies of certainty and rationality. On the other hand, literature privileges modes of uncertainty that divest claims towards a singular axiom of truth. While science can sometimes be enamored with narratives of progress, literature halts the speed of technological futures by meditating on the continuing legacy of historical events and traumas.

 In this course, we will work through literary representations of science that imagine possible futures, alternate worlds, and wondrous utopias that bring together scientific and literary realms. We will simultaneously consider the genre’s political dimensions by reading novels that interrogate forms of slavery, colonialism, empire, and the alien. Readings will include novels, short stories and poems. Possible readings include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Octavia Butler's Kindred and Alan Moore's Watchmen. Interlaced through the course, we will watch films like Blade Runner and District 9 to understand science fiction's fascination with biopolitical futures. The course is designed to help students deploy critical vocabulary around issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Assignments will include two close-reading pieces, one group presentation, and one final paper.