Fall 2019 HC 221H: Apocalyptic Visions

Fall 2019-2020

Professor: Brendan O'Kelly

4.00 credits

  • CRN 17289: Tuesday & Thursday, 10:00 - 11:20 @ DEA 303
  • CRN 17290: Tuesday & Thursday, 14:00 - 15:20 @ DEA 209

Why and how have humans attempted to think the “end of days”? What does the human fixation on the apocalypse, tracing its Greek root, “uncover” or “disclose” about the world and our engagement with it?

In an era in which many experts suggest that climate catastrophe is on the horizon, the apocalypse moves from the realm of metaphysical speculation to a foreseeable sequence of events. From the pop-cultural obsession with the end of human life—and “zombified” living death—to scientific, humanistic, and ethical debates about the non- and post-human, no topic currently commands as much attention as the end of days.

This course provides the background necessary to understand current literary and visual cultures’ persistent attempts to narrate these speculations, to “plot” the apocalypse and flesh out its “characters.” It traces eschatological (“endtimes”) thinking to a broad and global range of early examples, including biblical literature, Greek and Mesopotamian literature and philosophy, Buddhist eschatology, mythologies of indigenous peoples of the Americas, the Hindu apocalypse myth, and the Norse Ragnarök. The course will explore thinking on the ends of humans as it evolves to more recent times and across multiple media forms. We will examine medieval mystical writing in relation to modern and contemporary philosophy. We will read Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting against contemporary literary, filmic, and graphic narratives that position the ends of human life in genres that range from existential absurdism to realism.

This course will expose you to a wide range — in terms of time period, genre, and geography — of texts and critical theory, and put them in conversation with contemporary events. It will also help you improve your written and spoken analytical skills.