Honors | The End of the World
E103 | 0046 | Johnston, K.


This course studies novels and poems, films and plays, and paintings and
songs dealing with the subject of The End of the World. The primary focus
is on the 20th century; although apocalyptic writing is almost as old as
Western civilization, it appears most frequently at the ends of centuries,
and the approach of the year 2000 has already produced a bumper crop of
"millennial" books and movies. We identify the basic features of
apocalyptic art, paying special attention to the human values that each
work supports or attacks. The course also examines the specific historical
context in which each work was produced. Although we frequently discuss
the religious, political, and sociological reasons that lead people to
believe in the end of the world, the course does not dispute or defend
such beliefs-still less to predict when, where, and how the world might
end. Instead, the focus is on the *artistic uses* to which significant
writers, painters, musicians, and filmmakers have put this idea,
especially in works that do not appear to be "apocalyptic" at first
glance.

The course is taught in lecture format, with discussion sections and three
evening film showings. Grades are based primarily on three short papers
and two examinations, plus attendance and participation. Texts include
Revelations, The Last Judgment, War of the Worlds, Hiroshima, Apocalypse
Now, Things Fall Apart, Angels in America, Terminator, and selected poems
and popular music lyrics.