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EN399 On the Road to Collapse

Tutor & Convenor: Dr. Myka Tucker-Abramson

Seminar: Tuesday 1:00 - 3:00pm

In The Long Twentieth-Century, Giovanni Arrighi argues that the history of global capitalism has been structured by four roughly 100-year “cycles of accumulation,” each underpinned by an imperial leader: first Genoa, followed by the Dutch, the British, and now the US. In each case, he argues the cycles have with remarkable consistency had three phases: a merchant phase followed by a phase of industrial expansion, and then of financialization, and in each case the shift from industry to finance has been a “sign of autumn,” heralding the empire’s decline. This module follows the rise and fall of the US cycle of accumulation through the genre of the road novel.

In 1956, the monumental Interstate Highway Act passed, punctuating the national craze for the car and the freeway. The 1950s saw a veritable explosion of road novels, movies and songs all of which cast the highway as a symbol of the freedom, mobility, prosperity, and possibility underpinning the American dream and American century. Sixty years later we are witnessing another explosion of road novels and movies: Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Yuri Herera's Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World to name just a few. But unlike their precursors, the road no longer stands as a space of prosperity, futurity, and freedom, but has become a dystopic hell. The road leads nowhere. Its collapse, in other words, seems to stand for the collapse US global hegemony and its system of neoliberalism. This course suggests that the cultures of the highway might provide an ideal standpoint from which to consider the life and death of the affective, ecological, economic, political, and cultural regimes that composed US hegemony and neoliberalism. Drawing on novels and films, as well as economic, political, cultural, feminist, and critical-race and geographic theory, this course will consider the multiple meanings of the road novel, and what it might tell us about the roads we have already travelled and the possible roads ahead.

While many of our primary texts are popular novels and films, we will also be reading political economy, economic geography, and academic theory to ground our readings. As well, some of the readings – particularly Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren – are not only formally difficult, but also deal with sex and violence in challenging and potentially upsetting ways. Students who take this module should be prepared to work through these often dense, challenging, and theoretically complex texts.


The syllabus for 2018-9 can be viewed here


Class Presentation + handout 20%
4,500 Word Essay 80%

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