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IP304 Posthumous Geographies I: Underworlds

The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, an oil painting by Claude Lorrain (born Claude Gellée, traditionally known as Claude), signed and dated 1648. The composition draws the eye to a group of people on the steps to the right, at the intersection of a line of perspective.
Dr Bryan Brazeau

Module Leader

Optional module
Term 1
10 weeks

Moodle Platform »

Important information

This module will not be running in the academic year 2020-21.

Principal Aims

Physical, spiritual, allegorical, and psychological journeys through the underworld present a wide variety of problems; How does a trip through hell and back change the person undertaking the journey? What forces shape the imaginary design of such underworlds and their often terrible punishments? What narratives about the self and society are intertwined in such underworlds and how do they manifest themselves today in recovery narratives, our conceptions of organised crime, and experiences of incarceration? This transdisciplinary module examines such problems (and more) across a wide variety of material.

If you wish to undertake this module, please note that it is decidedly not a Classics, Sociology, or Italian Studies module. While we draw on insights from these disciplines and many others (such as cultural criticism, philosophy, religious studies, psychology, and intellectual history), we employ a variety of student-led approaches to consider the problems of the underworld from a transdisciplinary perspective. For example, in our discussions, we will explore problems such as the concept of the self in relation to political power, the reflexivity of normalizing power and social discourse on gender and race in the katabatic imaginary, the psychological reshaping of urban landscapes by criminal gangs, distorted experiences of space and time in carceral geography, and the relationship between the tyranny of originality and substance abuse.

Through exploration of and reflection upon these problems, you will refine your analytical skills by thinking across disciplines to engage with complex problems that resist simple solutions.

N.B. This module is complemented by ‘Posthumous Geographies II: Paradises’, which explores similar problems but focuses instead on paradise spaces. You may take either module individually or both in succession.

Principal Learning Outcomes

  • Articulate and discuss problems posed by underworld narratives.
  • Critically analyse the dynamic between how such narratives have been inherited, reconfigured, and reshaped according to changing religious, political, and social concerns and how they, in turn, influence and often justify such cultural values.
  • Examine underworld geographies from multiple perspectives (including spatial theory).
  • Engage in sustained (weekly) critical reflection on problems generated by underworld narratives.
  • Apply advanced cognitive skills to build transdisciplinary knowledge that fosters transformative dialogue.
  • Implement meta-cognitive skills in approaching complex contemporary problems.
  • Collaborate in the creation of your own version of an underworld, showcasing the new problems it generates and engaging in analytical reflection.


Introduction: Fame and its Discontents

Problem I: Individualism vs. Social Cohesion

a) “Lovers in a Dangerous Time:” Romantic Love and Political Stability

b) Hellish Punishments as Normalizing Discourses

c) Akrasia, Alcoholism, and Autobiography

d) “Bat out of Hell:” Infernal Liberty and Self-Reliance

Problem II: Fire and Brimstone: Space and Place Down Under

e) Hostile Environment: Ecological Allegories of Suffering

f) Body and Soul: Placelessness and Separation

g) Hell's Angels: Urban Battle Lines in the Québec Biker Wars

h) Carceral Geography and the Temporality of Imprisonment



1 x 3,000 word essay (45%)

1 x Reflection Diary (20%)

Practical work

1x Creative Group Presentation (15%)


1x 24-hour Take-Home Test (20%)

Reading List

The reading list for the module (2018-2019) is available here as a PDF. The list will shortly be updated for 2019-2020.

Indicative bibliography for 2019-2020:

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (penguin edition recommended)

Aquinas, T. Summa Theologica

Bachelard, G. The Poetics of Space (1958)

Bremmer, J.N. ‘Christian Hell: From the Apocalypse of Peter to the Apocalypse of Paul.’ Numen 56 (2009): 298-235.

Burkert, W. ‘Pleading for Hell: Postulates, Fantasies and the Senselessness of Punishment’, Numen, vol. 56.2-3 (2009): 141-160.

Brown, P. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (1988).

Dante, Divine Comedy (Hollander Trans.)

Emerson, R. W., “Self-Reliance” (Norton edition recommended)

Freccero, J. Dante: The Poetics of Conversion (1986)

Foucault, M. ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’ (1967/1984)

Jamison, L. The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath (2018)

Jensen, D., “Criminals,” in The Culture of Make Believe (2004)

Laing, O. Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink (2013)

Matthews, R. Doing Time: An Introduction to the Sociology of Imprisonment,

McCraw, B. and R. Arp, eds., The Concept of Hell (2015)

Milton, J. Paradise Lost, Books I and II (Norton edition recommended)

Moran, D., N. Gil, and D. Conlon, eds., Carceral Spaces: Mobility and Agency in Imprisonment and Migrant Detention (2013)

Schneider, S. Iced: The Story of Organised Crime in Canada (2009)

Scher, J. and W. Marsden, Angels of Death: Inside the Biker Gangs’ Crime Empire (2006)

Tuan, Y.-F. Topophilia (1990)

Virgil, Aeneid book VI; Georgics IV

Additional texts, specific book chapters and articles may be set for additional reading.