Summer 2016 - Undergraduate Course Descriptions

Dennis, Patrick
Discipline and Number
HUMA 1301 Section 091
MW Time 1:00 PM - 5:15 PM
Course Title
Exploration of the Humanities

Description of Course:

The political, socioeconomic, and scientific development of Western societies over the last two millennia has inspired philosophers, historians, and writers alike not only to extolment of the virtues of these societies but also to speculation as to their future. Such speculation has generally taken one of two perspectives: utopian or dystopian. In the years since the close of the First World War in 1918, narratives of the future have tended markedly to the dystopian, and many of these posit a society’s emergence in the wake of a catastrophic event. Such societies, beginning in the chaos of the apocalyptic, all must confront the same questions: Who governs? By what right? To what extent should they exert control over society? What kind of control should that be? These and other questions arise in earlier works such as George Orwell’s 1984, but they find their strongest voice in more recent works, such as 2005’s V for Vendetta, a film that adapts Alan Moore’s 1980s graphic novel of the same name, Lob and Rochette’s Snowpiercer and its 2013 film adaptation. While these works ask larger questions regarding the structure and function of government in the societies that emerge following the collapse of the older order, other works concern themselves with the sometimes painful growing process these societies undergo. In particular, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and its film adaptation Blade Runner (1982) both ask more specific questions regarding the nature of society itself, as well as the role of science and technology in these societies.

In this course, we will focus on the tendency of twentieth (and twenty-first) century fiction to present a pessimistic outlook for the future. In particular, we will examine specific issues that the authors address, the origins of those issues, and how the authors project the worsening of those issues into the future. From the authoritarian regimes presented in Orwell’s 1984 and V for Vendetta, to the intensification, rather than the dissipation, of class divisions in Snowpiercer, to the competition for and responsible use of the world’s resources, to the role of science in the future of Western societies, we will arrive at an understanding of how such dystopian visions, in addition to reflecting a loss of hope for the future, also serve as a spur to action in the present.

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