Course: Endgame, Wasteland, and Apocalypse: Literature at the End of History

HC 223H

Professor: Casey Shoop

Literature has always been obsessed with the end of the world, but this “sense of ending” is also assumed to offer some imaginary and critical purchase on the world as it is. How does the present appear when it becomes the past of an imagined future? Our course will examine a range of endtimes literary and cinematic texts from across the twentieth century—a period particularly full of apocalyptic thinking.

We will be especially interested in what these texts, far from escaping their historical moment, suggest and reveal about their own contemporaneity:  what kinds of aesthetic, historical, political and ethical concerns are involved in literature that imagines the end of history?  How do questions of reception and genre bear upon the imaginative orientation of these works? Along the way we will address some theoretical currents in philosophy, ecology and risk, as well as the histories of modernization and globalization.

Possible authors and texts include T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, William Butler Yeats’s selected poems, Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame,” David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake among many others. Possible films include Terry Giliam’s “Brazil,” George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” among many others.