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EN378 - Disasters and the British Contemporary

This module looks at stories of disaster arising from the United Kingdom since the era of high consensus (the mid-1950s), and asks how the catastrophic imagination speaks to present concerns in each era. The 'Contemporary' in the title means a consideration of 'present-ness' in different eras, rather than meaning recent as a category of books or a literary period (as in 'Brick Lane is an example of contemporary writing'). It asks how the British political situation of the time projects futures, and thinking more generally about the reading of disasters and dystopias. It touches on social history, politics, ideas of utopia and dystopia, and the constitution, but no prior knowledge of these subjects is needed.

A condition of attending seminars is somewhat knowing the texts and being ready to talk about it. As much as possible the set texts should be read alongside some of the texts in the relevant section of Extra Reading, though we appreciate time constraints. Here a 'text' is some kind of cultural output, not necessarily a printed book. Although this module is not especially in terms of reading volume, you should try to organise your year so that you are ready to discuss the more time-consuming texts in seminars and essays - look ahead and work out where you might need time.

From 2019/20, there will be two new module codes:
Intermediate Year: EN2G5
Final Year: EN3G5
*Please ensure that you register for the correct code for your year of study*

There is one 90-minute seminar a week, no lectures.

Seminar: Monday 13:30-15:00

Assessment is by two 4000 word or two 5000 word essays, titles decided by students themselves. (This is a slight change from 2018-19, in which titles were negotiated with the module convenor).

Office Hours 2019-20: Mon 15.00-16.00, Tue 16.00-17.00

In 2019-20, assessment is slightly different for intermediate and final year students: intermediate year is 2 x 4000 words, final year is 2 x 5000 words.

Reading List 2019-20

I Consensus

2. John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids (1951)
3. Michael Young, The Rise of the Meritocracy (1957)
4. L.P. Hartley, Facial Justice (1960)

II Collapse

5. wr. Peter Dickinson, The Weathermonger trilogy (1968-70) [this is sometimes retrospectively described as 'The Changes trilogy'], and wr. Peter Dickinson and Anna Home, dir. Anna Home, The Changes (1975)
7. Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
8. John Rowe Townsend, Noah’s Castle (1975)
9. wr. and dir. Derek Jarman, Jubilee (1978)

III Totalisation

10. wr. and dir. Peter Watkins, The War Game (1965) and wr. Barry Hines, dir. Mick Jackson, Threads (1984)
11. wr. Troy Martin, dir. Martin Campbell, Edge of Darkness (1985)
12. Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker (1980)

IV Environments

13. John Christopher, The Death of Grass (1956)
14. Naomi Mitchison, Solution Three (1975)
15. Jenni Fagan, The Sunlight Pilgrims (2016)
17. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

V Neoliberalism

18. Robert Moss, The Collapse of Democracy (1975)
19. Ivor Southwood, Non-Stop Inertia (2010)
20. wr. P.D. James, wr. and dir. Anfonso Cuaron, Children of Men (2006)



Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962)
Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed (1962)
John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
J.G. Ballard, 'Billennium' (1962)
HMSO, Education Act 1944
Anthony Crosland, The Future of Socialism (1956)
Stuart Hall et al, ‘The Insiders’ series, Universities and Left Review (1957)
Aldous Huxley, Island (1962)
Wr. and dir. Nigel Kneale, Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59)
Vernon Bogdanor and Robert Skidelsky, The Age of Affluence (1970)
David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 (2007)
Ken Loach, The Spirit of '45 (2013)
dir. Danny Boyle, Olympics Opening Ceremony 2014
Ministry of Information films tbc
Wr. and dir. Adam Curtis, The Living Dead ep.3, 'The Attic' (1995)
Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster (1980)
Adam Stock, 'The Blind Logic of Plants: Enlightenment and Evolution in John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids' (2015)
David Seed, Future Wars: the Anticipations and the Fears (2012)
Andrew Hammond, 'The Twilight of Utopia: British Dystopian Fiction and the Cold War' (2011)
Adam Piette, Literary Cold War: 1945 to Vietnam (2009)


Adrian Mitchell, The Bodyguard (1972)
Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations (1971)
Wr. and dir. Terry Nation, Survivors series one (1975)
wr. Anthony Schaffer, dir. Robin Hardy, The Wicker Man (1973)
Jon Savage, England’s Dreaming (1991)
Stephen Haseler, The Death of British Democracy (1975)
Tom Nairn, The Break-up of Britain (1977)
Ed. Edward Goldsmith, Can Britain Survive? (1971)
John Seymour, Self-Sufficiency (1976)
BBC Panorama, ‘Millwall’ (1977)
Andy Beckett, When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies (2009)
Francis Wheen, Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia (2010)
Wr. Anthony Burgess, dir. Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Barry Penrose and Roger Courtiour, The Pencourt File (1977)
BBC Panorama, ‘Sandhurst’ (1975)
Stephen Milligan, The New Barons: Union Power in the 1970s (1975)
Tariq Ali, The Coming British Revolution (1972)
Patrick Hutber, The Decline of the Middle Class (1975)
John Medhurst, That Option No Longer Exists: 1974-76 (2015)
BBC, The Plot Against Harold Wilson (2006)
Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, Lobster magazine no. 11 (1986)
Richard Littler, Discovering Scarfolk (2014)
Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (2005)
Chris Mullin, A Very British Coup (1982)
ed. Robert Moss, We Will Bury You (1970)
John Christopher, Empty World (1980)
wr. Nigel Kneale, dir. Peirs Haggard, Quatermass ('Quatermass: Ringstone Round'/ 'Quatermass IV') (1979)
Doomwatch series 1-3: surviving episodes recently made available on DVD, specific episodes TBC
Martin Amis, London Fields (1989)
Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004)
Rebekah Sheldon, The Child to Come: Life After the Human Catatrophe (2017)


HMSO, Protect and Survive (1980)
E.P. Thompson/ CND, Protest and Survive (1980)
ed. E.P. Thompson etc., Exterminism and Cold War (1982)
Central Office of Information, Sound an Alarm (1971)
Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth (1982)
wr and dir Derek Jarman, The Last of England (1988)
BBC Panorama, If the Bomb Drops (1980)
BBC, QED: A Guide to Armageddon (1982)
Wr. and dir. Duncan Campbell, Secret Society (1987)
Duncan Campbell, War Plan UK (1982)
Wr. and dir. John Pilger, The Truth Game (1983)
National Security Archive, The Able Archer 83 Sourcebook 
Oleg Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions (1994)
Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (1989)
Félix Guattari and Toni Negri, Communists Like Us (1990)
William Chaloupka, Knowing Nukes: The Politics and Culture of the Atom (1992)
Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory (1984)
John Caughie, Edge of Darkness (2007)
Lez Cooke, Troy Kennedy Martin (2007)
Jonathan Hogg, British Nuclear Culture (2016)
Daniel Cordle, Late Cold War Culture and Literature: The Nuclear 1980s (2017)
Diacritics 'Nuclear Criticism' special edition, 14-2 (Summer 1984)
eds. Matthew Grant and Benjamin Ziemann, Understanding the Imaginary War (2016)
Gerry Loose, Fault Line (2016)
Andrew Stones and Michael Gardiner, 'Lithic Agency, Scottish Modernism, and the Politics of Nuclear War' (2018)
Michael Gardiner, 'Nuclear Deficit: Why nuclear weapons are natural, but Scotland doesn't need nature' (2019)
Paul Virilio, War and Cinema (1989)
Akira Mizuta Lippit, Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) (2005)


Ecologist magazine, Manifesto for a Sustainable Society (1972)
Brian Aldiss, Billion Year Spree (1973)
Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (1989)
Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (1971)
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
Garrett Hardin, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ (1968)
Gordon Rattray Taylor, The Doomsday Book (1970)
Frederick Buell, 'Global Warming as Literary Narrative' (2014)
E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (1973)
Ed. John Barr, The Environmental Handbook (1971)
Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy (2013)
Jason Moore, Capitalism in The Web of Life (2015)
Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam-Power and the Roots of Global Warming (2015)
Steven Vogel, Thinking Like a Mall: Environmental Philosophy After the End of Nature (2015)


F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944)
F.A. Hayek, Choice in Currency (1976)
Anthony Burgess, 1985 (1978)
William Rees-Mogg, The Reigning Error (1975)
wr. and dir. Peter Greenaway, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
Joe Pike, Project Fear (2015)
Lionel Robbins, Liberty and Equality (1977)
Wr. and dir. Adam Curtis, The Mayfair Set (1999)
John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (1689)
Alasdair Gray, Lanark (1981)
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (2007)
Michael Gardiner, 'Eco-Catastrophe, Economic Patriotism, and the Thatcherite Promise of Nature' (2018)
Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of this Planet (2011)
Luc Boltanski, The New Spirit of Capitalism (2007)
Jamie Peck, Constructions of Neoliberal Reason (2010)
Evan Calder Williams, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse (2011)
Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming, Dead Man Working (2012)
Jonathan Crary, 24/7 (2014)
William Davies, 'Britain's Brezhnev-Style Capitalism' (2013)
William Davies, The Limits of Neoliberalism (2015)
David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules (2015)
Maurizio Lazzarato, Governing By Debt (2015)
Franco Berardi, After the Future (2011)
Franco Berardi, And: Phenomenology of the End (2015)
Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (2007)
chapters from eds. Chantelle Gray van Heerden and Aragorn Eloff, Deleuze and Anarchism (2019)

Advice on Writing Essays