This transdisciplinary module examines conceptions of paradise from the classical period to present day, using Dante’s Divine Comedy as a pedagogical guide. The module employs a combination of approaches from cultural criticism, digital humanities, intellectual history, literary studies, philosophy, marketing, religious studies, and spatial poetics to explore problems such as how specific constructions of paradise spaces may critique the social, cultural, religious, and political values of a particular society; how ideas of profane and sacred spaces shape popular perceptions of ethical behaviour; and how imagined geographies of paradisial spaces can shape architecture and urban planning. In other words, this module examines the following broad issue from a variety of complementary perspectives: ‘How do cultural anxieties about the afterlife—embodied in imagined spaces of paradises—shape moral and intellectual values, social realities, and built environments (and how, in turn, do imagined paradise spaces serve as a form of cultural critique)’?
We will consider the foundational tropes that underlie and generate such spaces—what Michael Rifaterre terms a ‘hypogram’—from their medieval Judeo-Christian roots through renaissance, twentieth-century, and contemporary/futuristic reconfigurations. We will examine how such ideas have been instrumental in shaping the horrors of Western colonialism, early modern orientalising paradises, and philosophical discussions of friendship and contemplation. The module will also feature a critical examination of how such ideas are articulated today in organised sports (Cricket/Baseball), department stores, exotic getaways, and music festivals. Finally, we will consider the future of such ideas through an examination of problems concerning cloud consciousness, uploaded minds, and digital afterlives. The course will allow students to develop and refine their multidisciplinary analytical skills by engaging with complex problems that resist simple solutions.
Principal Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this module, students will be able to:
- Identify the central narratives of paradisial journeys [anabases] in Western culture and their reception from the classical world to present day.
- Critically analyse the dynamic between how such narratives have been inherited, reconfigured, and reshaped according to changing cultural concerns and how they, in turn, influence and often justify such cultural values.
- Discuss key theories of spatial poetics in depth, applying these to the paradises we will examine.
- Engage in weekly critical reflection on how narratives of paradises are articulated and marketed today as part of the ‘experience economy’.
- Apply advanced cognitive skills to build transdisciplinary knowledge that fosters transformative dialogue between the humanities, the social sciences, and business studies.
- Implement meta-cognitive skills in approaching complex contemporary problems, such as the debates concerning our digital afterlives and cloud consciousness.
- Collaboratively create their own culturally-conscious versions of contemporary paradises, along with a plan for potential social/architectural implementations.
The module’s structure is loosely based on the journey undertaken by Dante in The Divine Comedy. Just as Dante’s pilgrim travels through an otherworldly paradise in order to explore contemporary social, moral, political, and cultural issues, so too will we move through various paradisial journeys exploring concerns similar to Dante’s but adapted to the contemporary world. The module progresses via a problem-based exploration of paradises, which begins with Dante’s depiction of Eden and its legacy of deceptive erotic gardens in early modern literary, visual, and dramatic arts, before moving to discussions of paradise spaces and colonialism, intellectual paradises, urban planning, and digital afterlives. The module is split into four problems that may branch into (but by no means limited to) topics in the various sub-headings.
Introduction: Eden and its Counterfeits
a. Healing and Weeping in Eden
I. Paradise, Empire, and Colonialism
b. Sex, Orientalism, and Paradise as Prison
c. Paradisial Geography
d. Eden and Colonial Violence
(FILM 1 - Aronofsky, The Fountain (2006))
II. Paradise as a State of Mind
e. Contemplation and Human Flourishing
f. ‘Heaven is a place on earth’: Friendship as Paradise
III. ‘Two Tickets to Paradise’: Selling Eden in Sport, Retail, and Travel Packages
g. Innings and Wickets: Baseball and Cricket
h. Paradise and Capitalism: Retail, Travel, and Music Festivals
IV. Digital Afterlives
i. Transhumanism and Uploaded Consciousness: Paradise in the Cloud
(FILM 2 - X-Files: Kill Switch (1996); Black Mirror: San Junipero (2016))
j. Conclusions and Group Presentations
Illustrative Reading List
Selections from the following primary sources, monographs and edited collections will be assigned:
Ariosto, L. Orlando Furioso (1532) (trans. Reynolds)
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Bachelard, G. The Poetics of Space (1958)
Barron, W.R.J. and Glyn Burgess, eds., The Voyage of St. Brendan (2005)
Bartlett Giammatti, A. Taking Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games (1989)
—, The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic (1966)
Buber, M. I and Thou (1923)
Byrd, W. A Natural History of Virginia: Or, The Newly Discovered Land of Eden (1737)
Cicero, On Friendship
Columbus, C. The Four Voyages (1492-1504) (ed. Cohen)
Dante, Divine Comedy (Hollander Trans.)
del Castillo, Bernal Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain (1576) (ed. Cohen)
Foucault, M. ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’ (1967/1984)
Homer, The Odyssey
Lancaster, W. The Department Store: A Social History (1995)
Milton, J. Paradise Lost
Mukherji, R. Eden Gardens: Legend and Romance (2015)
O’Neill, K. Internet Afterlife: Virtual Salvation in the 21st Century (2016)
Petrarca, F. Petrarch’s Lyric Poems (trans. Durling)
Rifaterre, M. Text Production (1979/1983)
Salazar, N. Envisioning Eden: Mobilizing Imaginaries in Tourism and Beyond (2013).
Scafi, A. Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth (2006)
Tasso, T. The Liberation of Jerusalem (1581) (trans. Wickert)
Thorn, J. Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game (2011)
Wright, Louis B. The Colonial Search for a Southern Eden (2006)
Films and Television:
Bowman, R. The X-Files: ‘Kill Switch’ [TV Series] (1996)
Brooker, C. Black Mirror:’San Junipero’ [TV Series] (2016)
Additional texts, specific book chapters and articles may be set for additional reading.
3000 word essay (45%)
Reflection Diary (15%)
Creative Group Presentation (15%)
In-Class Test (25%)