Literature CS 114

Life after the End of the World:
Postapocalyptic Narratives and Thoughts of the Unthinkable

Fall 2015

Enroll Code: 29280.

Teaching Associate: Patrick Mooney
Voicemail: (805) 272-0069
Office Location: CCS Office Trailer #1002.
Class Meetings: M/W 10:00–11:20; Bldg 494, room 160B.
Office Hours: M 11:30–12:30 and W 2:00–3:00, or by appointment.

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Course Description

One of our primary concerns in post-9/11 America is security — the attempt to stabilize and maintain our traditional way of life in the face of internal and external threats. This course examines literary and film representations of life after catastrophic failures of this attempt to keep life moving forward along the tracks that we expect it to move. Some of the catastrophes we will examine include pandemic infection (Saramago's Blindness, Boyle's 28 Days Later), nuclear holocaust (McCarthy's The Road), changes in ecosystem balance (Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, Atwood's Oryx and Crake), and unexplained alterations to the metaphysical structure of life itself (Romero's Dawn of the Dead).

As we examine the lives of survivors of these various apocalypses and the ways that their lives and societies change, we will be concerned with a number of recurring themes: How do we understand our own world and its precarious construction through the imagination of its end? To what extent do our normal systems of meaning and ethics depend on (usually unstated) assumptions about the way that our world is organized? What do these texts ask us to understand about human nature and what it might mean to abandon our traditional understandings of it? How does the experience of horror as a response to a narrative indicate the limits of permissible thought? How do texts that push us to the limit of what we can tolerate emotionally help us to think our way around or past what we normally conceive of as the limits of human thought? Why do we (well, some of us) take such pleasure in imagining these scenarios? And, finally, how might these fictitious disasters come about, and how might they have been avoided in the first place?


Print texts are available in the UCen Bookstore or online through the normal retail channels. Personally, I frequently use to comparison shop (they don't pay me to endorse them; I'm just a satisfied customer). You may also find to be a useful comparison-shopping site (hyperlinks in the list above lead to searches for those books). I do ask that you use the editions of books ordered through the UCen bookstore for the course (their ISBNs are listed above) in order to facilitate class discussion. Readings that appear on the schedule below but not in the list above are available on GauchoSpace (they are also marked GS on the detailed schedule below).


Dawn of the Dead will be shown in its entirety in class. I will arrange a screening of 28 Days Later outside of our normal class time, and encourage you to attend: being scared in the dark together is a particularly enjoyable experience, and I will bring pizza. We will discuss scheduling for this showing as the middle of the quarter approaches. However, you are also welcome to obtain and watch it on your own, if you prefer.

A few words about course content: You should be aware that texts dealing with the end of the world are also heavily concerned with the breakdown of ordinary social order and involve a concomitant depiction of the breaking of nearly every imaginable normally operative taboo. Some of the situations and events depicted by the books, articles, and films in this course that may be seen as horrifying include (but are not limited to) cannibalism; sexual assault; less-than-enlightened views on gender, sexuality, and race; suicide; torture; and violations of many other ethical and religious norms. If you cannot deal with depictions of horrifying events, you may find the course material itself traumatizing, so please ensure that you thoughtfully and honestly assess early in the quarter whether this class is appropriate for you. (One of the reasons that we are starting the term with a film depicting flesh-eating zombies is to encourage you to make this assessment early.) To put it more briefly: This course may be difficult for the faint of heart or the queasy of stomach, or those who have a particular sensitivity to horrifying material.


All of the guidelines and requirements here assume that you are taking the course for four units. If you plan to take the course for a different number of units, please speak to me about what I will expect from you at varying levels of commitment.

The course requires regular attendance, active participation in class discussion, and a final research paper or creative project. Please pay close attention to the schedule below so that we can have your full participation.

In addition, please note:

Your final project may be any of:

Regardless of which option you choose for your final project:


Readings marked (GS) are available on GauchoSpace. Readings marked (W) are in Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse.

Unit One: The End

Unit Two: The World

Unit Three: After

Unit Four: Life

If That's Not Enough Reading for You

… I'm happy to make additional suggestions. I expect that many of you are fascinated and intrigued by the genre, as I am, and would be happy to point you in directions that you find interesting, if you'd like to be pointed. At the same time, I encourage you to read widely on your own—there are a large number of genre-related media we're not looking at and postapocalyptic sub-genres we won't be reading, alas—and would be happy to hear proposals about final projects related to areas that we're not exploring.

At the same time, I realize that the core reading list is already fairly substantial, especially when it's supplemented with the optional and recommended reading lists. If you want to stick with the core reading list and not go beyond it, or only want to venture off occasionally, that's all right, too. It doesn't affect my impression of you as a scholar, artist, writer, student, or human being. There's plenty here for everyone, and I'm looking forward to a number of excellent discussions as the quarter progresses.

Other Resources

A collection of course materials can be found online at (or, if you're fond of additional typing, at At a bare minimum, that site will have electronic copies of all handouts that I distribute during class. There is also a Twitter stream for the course, accessible from the same location, that provides reminders about upcoming events and additional course-related information.

All of Which Is to Say …

I expect that you will put in the necessary work to be prepared for class, that you will engage deeply and substantially with the course material, that you will turn in your work on time, and that you will treat everyone else in class with respect. I want everyone to benefit from and to succeed in this course, and would be happy to hear input from you about how I can help you to do so. If you have questions or concerns, please let me know in my office hours, after class, or by email.

I try very hard to be available to, supportive of, and understanding toward my students. If you are having difficulties with the course material, please come talk to me. If you have unusual, stressful, or bizarre things happen during the term that make it difficult for you to perform up to your potential in the course, please come talk to me. If you just can't seem to get started writing or otherwise working on your final project, please come talk to me. If I can help you to be successful in any reasonable way, please let me know. My job is primarily to support you on your way to academic, intellectual, and artistic success. I am grateful for input about how I can do so.

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