English | Literature & Science
L769 | 26980 | Kilgore


L769  26980  KILGORE (#5)
Literature & Science

4:00p – 7:00p T

TOPIC: LOOKING UP:  UTOPIAN DESIRE IN ASTRONOMICAL FICTION AND
SCIENCE
DEPARTMENT AUTHORIZATION REQUIRED

What do we hope for from science and technology?  Do they represent
the best hope for a progressive liberalism that has been failed by
politics?  Are they simple instruments of commercial endeavor and
state power?  Does or can international science serve as the
intellectual and social model for a better world order?  What effect
does new technical capabilities and knowledge have on the kind of
stories we create and enjoy?  The logic of these questions opens us
to the charge that we still embrace a naïve notion of progress, a
scientism from which some strands of postmodernism would liberate
us.  Indeed, the narratives we produce to make sense of contemporary
technoscience make progressive hopes an increasingly visible
characteristic of contemporary culture.  This vulnerability is
evident in stories that offer some sort of utopian renewal or social
reform as a consequence of scientific or technological endeavor.
Here political hope and utopian desire centers around the conquest
or settlement of new frontiers, the discovery of or encounter with
the new or the alien.
In this seminar we will follow the cultural trace of evolutionary
and utopian narratives sponsored by knowledge in the fields of
planetary science, astrobiology, artificial intelligence, and the
search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).  Through literature
that presents speculation, argument and evidence (thought experiment
and adventure) we will trace the tension between our desire to
fulfill the human potential of the scientific enlightenment and our
desire to escape its oppressions.  At issue is the tension between
our critique of modernity and its persistent re-articulation in
scientific projects that aim to preserve, improve and extend human
potential.  We will examine the work of writers (in and outside of
science fiction) who care about the impact of contemporary science
on everyday life; we will consider the prose of writer-scientists
who desire cultural visibility for their work, their beliefs and
themselves; and we will explore popular responses to the utopian
ambitions of pure science.
Readings likely will include the work of Don De Lillo, H. G. Wells,
Katherine Hayles, Hans Moravec, Carl Sagan, Jill Tarter, James Gunn,
Seth Shostak, David Grinspoon, Frank Drake, Richard Powers and Marge
Piercy.  We will also pay attention to the visual culture produced
by creators in this area including motion pictures such as H. G
Wells’ Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 1936) and the 1980
documentary that made Carl Sagan a celebrity, Cosmos:  A Personal
Journey.  Assignments will include class presentations and a major
research essay.