Fall 2011 Course: Modern and Contemporary Literature: Encounters with the Non-Human

No course documents for this one yet, but here is the description. I don’t have much to say about it. Fairly straightforward course whose main recommendation is that it will let me teach some stuff that I really want to teach right now (although I could not find a way to make The City & the City work here–damn). My first time teaching Lovecraft, so there’s that. Also, my first time teaching Imago, which is a great novel, but the third in a trilogy. I don’t think it will be a problem, but given that it’s told from the POV of a non-human and other-gendered being, the first two books in the series help put it in perspective. Also, first time teaching Mielville. The Scar is the second in a trilogy, but I don’t think that matters at all given the nature of the Bas Lag novels. Finally, I don’t much like Accelerando, but it should work well here. And, really finally, I love Roadside Picnic. Thank god it’s online (PDF), as it’s been out of print forever. (And, now that I am thinking about it, and speaking of out of print stuff, Joe McElroy’s Plus would have been great here.)

ENGL 3060-021 & 022: Modern and Contemporary Literature
Encounters with the Nonhuman
Benjamin J Robertson

Science fiction has long imagined the encounter between the human and the alien and, at the same time, demonstrated the unwillingness on the part of humans to confront the nonhuman’s nonhumanity. In the words of Stanislaw Lem: “We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don’t know what to do with other worlds.”

This class will read science fiction that deals with meetings between the human and its others in order to consider the following questions, among others: How does the human react to the alien? How does the human construct itself in the face of the other? Is it possible to think from a nonhuman perspective? Can we imagine a culture other than our own? Do we even know what the terms “human” or “human culture” even mean?

Reading List

  • JG Ballard: Crash
  • Octavia Buter: Imago
  • Ursula LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Stanislaw Lem: Solaris
  • HP Lovecraft: At the Mountains of Madness
  • China Mielville: The Scar
  • Joanna Russ: The Female Man
  • Charles Stross: Accelerando
  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic

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