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Syllabus 2023-24

Each week contains a number of texts; however - a look at these will show that these are all short excerpts or clips, and the total number of pages to read is not large. But don't worry if you don't get to them all. All excerpts will be linked well in advance of the relevant week, and hopefully all by the end of week two; many are a couple of library clicks away, some are physically in the library. Read the English version, obviously, unless you can read the original in another language; other languages are sometimes hard to get and have not always been linked. Relevant ranges are given, though reading more of the text is always useful. I recommend using print books where possible, but understand if these can't be obtained.

Week 1: Introduction

No reading this week, though you could try to get ahead with future weeks' reading. For this week, try to think about what kind of theoretical reading you have done so far, and what you have got from it; give us examples if you can. Think also about what you'd like to get from this module, and about how the texts mentioned below might link to what you've read.

Why bother with cultural theory?
What are the most relevant cultural theory questions of the mid-2020s?

Week 2: Transparency

Thomas Docherty, Confessions: The Philosophy of Transparency (2012), 128-143 (last part of Part Two: 'Of persuasion and the confessional ground of judgment' to end)
Byung-Jul Han,Transparenzgesellschaft (2012)/ The Transparency Society, (2015), 37-49
Jean Baudrillard, La transparence du mal (1990)/ The Transparency of Evil (1993), 49-56 (section 'Operational Whitewash'), English print copy in library
Clare Birchall, Radical Secrecy (2021), 1-14 and 69-91, full ebook through library
James Bridle, New Dark Age (2019), Chapters 'Concurrency' and 'Cloud', full ebook through library

Is the drive to transparency a drive to eliminate the political? To eliminate history?
Can transparency be totalitarian? Why do institutions so often stress the need to be transparent, and is this always benign?
How does linguistic representation relate to political representation?
What are the implications of the ubiquity of screen-mediated communication after 2020-22?

Week 3: Nostalgia

Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, 2014 (various original essay dates) 13-31, 107-110, 143-149 (sections 'The Slow Cancellation of the Future', 'Nostalgia for Modernism', 'Always yearning for the time that just eluded us')
Katy Shaw, Hauntology (2018), 1-23, 105-110
Grafton Tanner, The Hours Have Lost Their Clock: The Politics of Nostalgia (2021), 10-17 and 229-251

How is the past available to us?
Is nostalgia regressive?
What are the class politics of nostalgia?
What was the relationship between hauntology and neoliberalism? How about the following era?
Why did the future disappear?

Week 4: Class and Aspiration

Dan Evans, A Nation of Shopkeepers (2023), 178-223
Gary Stevenson, 'We Will Lose the Property Owning Middle Class' (2023)
Max Tegmark, excerpt from longer discussion on AI (2023), 0.50-1.10 and 1.23-1.29
Achille Mbembe, Politiques de l'inimitié (2016)/ Necropolitics (2019), 66-92, full English ebook through library, original paper book in library


Have class distinctinctions, class expectations, and class solidarities disappeared? Why is there now so little discussion of class?
What will change if the middle class disappears, and how might this be registered culturally?
Who is really in charge, in class terms?
It's AI, not Marxist ideals, that will destroy capitalism: true or false?

Week 5: Meontology

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter (2010), 20-38, full ebook through library
Federico Campagna, Prophetic Culture (2021), 19-55
Laura Watts, 'Nemesis' (2020)
James Bridle, Ways of Being (2023), 21-58
和辻哲郎、倫理学 1, 91-133, 154-180 / Watsuji Tetsurō, Ethics 1 (1937), 59-86, 101-118 (previous Nishida optional)
Blade Runner 2049: Joi Rain Scene (2017)


Is subjectivity double-edged?
Is it necessary to accept a place in a world of non-human consciousnesses; how might these agencies be imagined?
What sorts of cultures might be suggested by environmental computation?
Has progress become performative and narcissistic, even backhandedly turbo-capitalist?
Has our attention really been shredded, and is shredded attention nihilistic?

Week 6: Nuclear Criticism

Frances Ferguson, 'The Nuclear Sublime', Diacritics (1984)
Liam Sprod, Nuclear Futurism: The Work of Art in the Age of Remainderless Destruction (2012), 6-35
Gabrielle Hecht, Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade (2012), 1-46, full ebook through library
John Kinsella and Drew Milne, ‘'Nuclear Theory Degree Zero', Angelaki 22-3, 1-16 (2017)
Union of Concerned Scientists, Close Calls (2015)
Lili Xia et al, 'Global food insecurity and famine from reduced crop, marine fishery and livestock production due to climate disruption from nuclear soot injection', Nature Food 3, 15 Aug 2022
Short exceprts from ed. Ele Carpenter, The Nuclear Cultures Sourcebook (2016)


In what sense are radionuclides 'hyperobjects' - having radically unknowable effects? Who is harmed by them, and how might this be narrated?
How would omnicide or 'remainderless non-being' be registered in literature?
Why do news reports stress that the current Russian invasion is illegal, when Anglosphere nuclear deterrence has been illegal since 1970?
How do centrifugal forces on British empire and Anglosphere interfere with nuclear weapons policy?
Why hasn't there been more registration of nuclear issues in Environmental Humanities?
Why were millennial Anglosphere institutions more interested in identity issues than nuclear apocalypse?
Would a collapsing American empire resort to nuclear weapons to protect commercial empire? How would this be culturally registered?

Week 7: Degrowth

Mark Banks, 'The Unanticipated Pleasures of the Future', New Formations 107-08, 12-29 (2022)
Matthias Schmelzer, Andrea Vettea, and Aaron Vansintjan, The Future is Degrowth (2022), 36-74
Mohandas Gandhi, Supplementary Texts to Hind Swaraj, (1909): 1 2 (1914-1947)
佐藤幸平、人身世「資本論」 (2020)/ Satō Kōhei, Marx in the Anthropocene (2023), full English ebook through library, 216-250
(Optional) Pierre Charbonnier, Abondance et liberté (2020)/ Affluence and Freedom (2021), 142-171 (Optional)


What is life like with no economic growth, and what kinds of cultures - and cultural production - does this suggest?
How would global agreements on degrowth be negotiated?
What are the differences between degrowth, technophobia, nihilism, communism, and (anarcho-)primitivism?
How would novels' settings, characters, and thinking look different in a no-growth world?

Week 8: …and Caveats

Thomas Moynihan, X-Risk (2020), 341-424
Leigh Phillips, Austerity Ecology and the Collapse-porn Addicts (2015), 27-52 and 235-264
Saurabh Arora and Andy Stirling, 'From Growth, through Degrowth, to a Pluriverse of Flourishings', Resilience 9 May 2023
Christopher Mason, The Next 500 Years (2022), 1-26, 213-245


What is the relationship between the imagination and futurity in the 2020s?
What are the externalities of Euro-American environmental demands?
Do we need to 'grow out of' crises?
What are humans' responsibilities to life?
How will AI-inflected communication really work?

Week Nine: Bullshit

Wr. and dir. Adam Curtis, Hypernormalisation (2016), 19.57-26.57
Ivor Southwood, Non-Stop Inertia (2011), 7-13, 43-48, 57-61 ('Non-Stop Inertia', 'From Unemployment to "Jobseeking"', 'Jobseeking as Career'), Full Ebook in Library
David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs (2016), 27-65
Sianne Ngai, Theory of the Gimmick (2020), 83-103, Harvard UP edition full ebook through library
Vaclav Havel, Moc bezmocných (1978), secs. 3-7 / The Power of the Powerless (2018), 14-40
Lockheed Martin (world's largest nuclear weapons manufacturer), 'Diversity and Inclusion: A Global Commitment'


How did bullshit gain such a crucial place in our world?
Do we live two separate truths, public and private? Do literary and cultural works suggest this?
How might a bullshit-free world be narrated?
Is evil 'banal'?
Can the current stage of the Anglosphere be compared to the 1980s Soviet empire?

Ween Ten: Shanzhai *

Byung-Chul Han, Shanzhai: Dekonstruktion auf Chinesisch (2011)/ Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese (2017), 60-78
Mckenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street (2011), 30-37
Walter Benjamin, 'Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit' (1935)/ 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' (any edition)


How important is authenticity? Is this changing?
What part does originality play in literature?
What assmuptions are made in ideas of ownership of cultural works, or intellectual copyright?
Is Wark right that the great unspoken question of canonical late-C20 literary theory was intellectual ownership?