BA Art History and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
World Literature and Climate Crisis

Unit code ENGL34212
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

The aim of this course is to study the variety of forms and perspectives being used by writers and other artists from different regions of the world to explore the climate crisis or climate emergency. Our starting point is to ask: how can texts portray the enormous scale and gravity of this crisis? Furthermore, can texts help us to identify the origins of the crisis and develop strategies of adjustment and mitigation? We look at contemporary novels, poems, nature writing, thrillers and speculative fictions that address climate change and related forms of ecological depredation. Earlier texts will be examined in order to think through the long history of fossil fuel consumption. Our goal is to think not so much about the cultural ramifications of the climate crisis but rather about how cultural texts of various kinds shape our relations with the living world in a moment of crisis and help us to imagine different kinds of future.

Aims

The aims of this course are:

- to introduce students to important texts and issues that address the contemporary climate crisis;

- to examine the multiplicity of texts, genres, forms and media that portray or otherwise respond to this crisis;

- to consider the formal and technical challenges presented for writers and other artists by anthropogenic global warming;

- to analyse the numerous ways in which texts explore the origins and implications of climate crisis;

- to examine the role played by imaginative texts in developing strategies of adjustment and mitigation;

- to consider the intersection between global warming and issues like empire, gender and race

- to analyse the ways in which texts explore and interrogate the category of ‘the human’ 

- to engage critically with selected theoretical and political writings on climate crisis.

 

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

 

- apply and evaluate different critical and theoretical approaches to texts that address climate crisis and in so doing formulate their own distinctive approaches;

- recognise and grasp some of the various features and innovations of these texts at the level of form and theme;

- demonstrate an understanding of the multiple forms and genres used by writers and other artists to address the climate crisis;

- demonstrate a thorough understanding of the key themes of crisis, ecology, the human, literary form and fossil fuel consumption.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

- make informed critical judgments about how texts (particularly those that address the climate crisis) mediate vital questions of ecological, social and political change;

- analyse course texts in a comprehensive as well as socially, politically and ecologically informed manner;

- identify and outline key problems and issues in contemporary world literature;

- synthesise and analyse information about the climate crisis;

- evaluate arguments advanced by critics, literary theorists, activists and practitioners.

Practical skills

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

- articulate reasoned critical positions in speech and writing on the climate crisis and on the ways in which its origins and ramifications are shaped by texts;

- plan and execute independent research on the topic;

- make good use of library, electronic, and online resources pertaining to the course;

- interpret and summarise information from different kinds of text;

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

- retrieve, sift, organise, synthesise and critically evaluate material from a range of different sources, including library, electronic, and online resources;

- produce written work that collects and integrates evidence in order to formulate a critical argument;

- demonstrate good teamwork skills by acknowledging the views of others and working constructively with others;

- develop and complete an effective research project.

Employability skills

Other

Assessment methods

Portfolio 40%
Essay
60%

 

Recommended reading

We will read novels such as Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island, Annie Proulx’s Barkskins and The Swan Book by Alexis Wright. In order to think about the long pre-history of climate crisis and the age of fossil fuel consumption we will read Joseph Conrad’s novella Typhoon. Contemporary poetry will occupy us for two weeks, including work by Alice Oswald, Les Murray and Kathleen Jamie. We’ll also look at the ‘new nature writing’ of writers like Jamie and Robert Macfarlane.

Literary texts are our focus. But recent theoretical and political work on the new geological epoch characterised by destructive human intervention in the living world (referred to as the Anthropocene or, less often, as the Capitalocene) will be studied alongside those literary texts, including work by Naomi Klein, Andreas Malm, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Amitav Ghosh and George Monbiot. Critical work on the cultural dimensions of anthropogenic climate change by critics like Adam Trexler and writers in the ‘energy humanities’ like Imre Szeman will also be examined.

 

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Anastasia Valassopoulos Unit coordinator
Robert Spencer Unit coordinator

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