English | Literature and Public Life
L240 | 2006 | Wiles


9:05a-9:55a MWF (25) 3 cr

COAS INTENSIVE WRITING SECTION

TOPIC:  WRITING ABOUT APOCALYPSE: THE HOLOCAUST,VIETNAM, NUCLEAR WAR

For the topic of writing about apocalypse, we must examine both key words
in the title phrase.  By writing, I refer both to the literature about
this theme written by established authors (the core books on our reading
list), and to the ways in which people have written about these
apocalyptic situations, including our own writing.  This should warn you
that as an IW course, L240 emphasizes student writing and that we will
devote considerable class time to revisions and peer editing.

By apocalypse, I want to imply some cataclysmic events in modern history
that have come close to destroying the world of a given culture--or in the
case of nuclear war, something which could destroy all peoples.  An
apocalypse implies "the end of the world as we know it," meaning that one
group of people and/or cultural institutions is virtually destroyed, but
that there is a struggle to extract meaning from the downfall.  While the
biblical apocalypse is supposed to be the final end, the kinds of
contemporary disasters which we rhetorically call apocalyptic usually
include some survivors and the attempt to rebuild a world after having
"learned from the apocalypse."

To start the course, I want us to read some Holocaust literature, because
this event has become a benchmark of brutality against people in our
times, and because some thinkers have even questioned the ethics of
writing about such genocides.  In the second unit of the course, we will
consider a few literary and cinematic depictions of an apocalytic event
which hasn't happened in real life yet, nuclear war, partly because this
is the most universal of apocalytic threats still looming in today's
world, and also because writing about it involves both a documentary
project (writings about Hiroshima) and a projective one (stories and films
about the results of World War III).  Finally, I want us to look at some
writings from the Vietnam War, because I would argue that this has been
the most apocalytic conflict in which the United States has been engaged.
It was a war which nearly destroyed the country of Vietnam, but it was
much more devastating and apocalyptic to the United States and to our
national self-concept.

We will do three or four key readings for each of the three units, and you
will also have three formal essays to complete and two examinations.
Readings include: Hershey, HIROSHIMA; Levi, SURVIVAL AT AUSCHWITZ;
Spiegelman, MAUS; Herr, DISPATCHES; O'Brien, IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS,
plus films such as APOCALYPSE NOW, NIGHT AND FOG, TERMINATOR 2, and 12
MONKEYS.