What becomes of communities and individuals in a catastrophe? How are they destroyed, rebuilt, transformed, challenged and imagined? What does it mean to grasp an event as catastrophic in the first place? This course approaches these questions from multiple vantage points in order to explore how a catastrophic event makes and unmakes the world. Over the course of the semester, we will examine a number of catastrophes—natural and man-made, sudden and gradual: the Cherokee Removal (Trail of Tears); the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake; World War I (the Battle of the Somme); World War II (the Holocaust, the London Blitz, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki); the Kennedy assassination; the space shuttle Challenger explosion; Chernobyl; the September 11 terrorist attacks; and Hurricane Katrina. We will consider the different kinds of social formations that arise or are destroyed in disaster and think critically about what it means to be both an individual and part of a collective in times of unprecedented upheaval. Because catastrophe’s shocks are felt, represented and addressed in a range of disciplines and discourses, our readings will span works of literature (Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus, Georges Perec), legal opinions, critical and theoretical texts (Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster, Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope, Geoff Dyer’s The Missing of the Somme, Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell), as well as essays by Orwell, Freud and John Berger and at least one film.
Limited to 25 students. Spring Semester. Visiting Professor Reichman.
If Overenrolled: priority would be given to juniors and seniors