Living-Learning Center | Degeneration: Narratives of Decay
L210 | 1045 | Rasmussen


Degeneration begins with the idea that “progress” is a myth obscuring the
notion that we have arrived at the present through mistakes of history, not
developments. Two centuries of industrial, scientific, and social “progress”
have bequeathed to us the promise of infinite “developments” ahead. And
how could we think otherwise? As “moderns” we are the inheritors of endless
streams of Internet information, computer upgrades, and media images; of
ever-renewable products to care for our ever-better and healthier bodies with
ever-extending life spans. In this class, however, we’ll look at the fiction,
science, art, and philosophy of those anti-modernists who tried to temper
cultural optimism with tales of the dangers and horrors of modernity. The
course draws heavily on the nineteenth-century, for it is in this period that
ideas of modernity and progress first took hold, and extends this examination
into the twentieth. We’ll start with the rise (and decay) of the urban industrial
environment, move on to biological and social (de-) evolution, and finally
consider the impact of industry and science on the “modern” human psyche,
all in order to explore the dark side of historical development