New courses, and a new school year

As those who follow my blog know, my posting tends to come in bursts of productivity interspersed by long fallow periods (at this point, I’d estimate my Game of Thrones posts account for about a third of the material here).

I’m hoping the next few months will be more productive. This time last year, I managed to post on a more or less weekly basis about the texts I was doing in my Revenge of the Genres fourth-year seminar; I want to repeat that, this time with a new fourth-year class. Introducing “The Triumph of Death”!

ENGL 4272 - title

Basically, we’re looking at twenty-first century narratives of post-apocalypse—a sub-genre that is coming to rival (if only because of the ubiquity of zombie apocalypse) young adult dystopia as the most prevalent dystopian SF on the market. Here’s our schedule of readings for anyone who wants to play the home version:

Sept. 12-21: Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Sept. 26-Oct. 5: Colson Whitehead, Zone One
Oct. 12-19: Lidia Yuknavitch, The Book of Joan
Oct. 24-Nov. 2: Edan Lepucki, California
Nov. 7-9: Kevin Brockmeier, The Brief History of the Dead
Nov. 14-16: Max Brooks, World War Z
Nov. 21-30: Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

If you followed my course-based blog posts of last fall, you’ll note two repetitions: Zone One and Station Eleven. That’s due in part to the fact that it was thinking about Station Eleven (I also taught it in my winter SF/F class, so now I’ve basically put it on a course for three straight semesters) that led me to the project I’m currently working on, a book I’m tentatively titling The Spectre of Catastrophe, about—you guessed it—twenty-first century post-apocalyptic narratives. I wrote a draft of an article on Station Eleven, which grew too long, so I hived off a digression about zombie apocalypse to be its own article, which itself grew too long and so I’ve divided it in two. Meanwhile, another digression in the Station Eleven paper gave rise to a meditation on the shift from disaster films in the 1990s, which are preoccupied with the spectacle of catastrophe, to the post-apocalyptic boom of the new century, which is preoccupied with the aftermath of catastrophe. Then the play on “spectacle” vs. “spectre” popped into my head, and suddenly I had a book title.

I made a fair bit of progress writing this past summer, with four articles in varying stages of completion and a reasonably good idea of what the other chapters of the book will look like. And in the interests of keeping the momentum going, I decided that a fourth-year seminar would harmonize nicely and keep these topics in the forefront of my mind during what promises to be an insanely busy fall term.

Hence, the blog posts: once again, I want to post once or twice a week as a supplement to our class, but also as a way of testing out new material (as it were). Words on the page, as my thesis advisor used to say, are money in the bank—even if you don’t end up using them in your finished product.

***

I’m also teaching two second-year courses this term, one on American literature after 1945, and one on popular culture for our Communication Studies program. The American literature course is a new addition. Prior to this year, our curriculum had two second year American courses, one on 19th and the other on 20th-century U.S. fiction. Last year, my colleague Andrew and I changed that, replacing them with three courses that would cover not just fiction but poetry, non-fiction, and drama as well—on the principle that lower-level courses should be surveys that introduce students to a range of genres and forms. So now we have three second-year courses in American literature: 1776-1865, 1865-1945, and after 1945 (the reasoning behind that periodization might make for a blog post in the near future, as it comprises at least part of my intro lecture on Tuesday).

I’m also returning to Critical Approaches to Popular Culture, a required course for our Communication Studies degree. The English Department absorbed Communication Studies last year; last fall was my first chance to teach the class, and the first time I taught popular culture since 2004-2005, when I taught it at UWO. Western’s version was (and presumably still is) a full-year course, which gives one a certain amount of leisure to develop themes; like every course here at Memorial, this one is a single semester. Twelve and a half weeks can be a remarkably tight time frame to teach, well, anything … hopefully I’ll be learning this year from the mistakes I made last year.

One way or another, I’m happy with my syllabus cover image, even though we’re not doing either The Simpsons or Game of Thrones:

simpsons-GOT

I’m pretty stoked about this incarnation, though, and hopefully will have a post or three inspired by it here (I’m already making notes toward one. Fingers crossed).

One way or another, happy September, everyone. My new year always begins the day after Labour Day—it has since I first started going to school, and that’s still the way of things. Until later …

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Filed under course readings, teaching, what I'm working on

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