Dr. Robert C. Thomas | HUM 415
    Tuesday/Thursday, 9:35AM – 10:50AM in HUM 408
    E-mail: theory at sfsu dot edu
    Office: HUM 416, Office Hour: 10:50 – 11:50 AM Tuesday

    This course satisfies the following requirements:Upper Division, UD-C: Arts and/or Humanities
    SF State Studies: Global Perspectives.

    Course Description

    Apocalypse, and its imagination, has become part of our everyday cultural lives. From dystopian science fiction teen potboilers on the CW to contemporary social theory, to the hottest television shows and the latest blockbusters, apocalypse seems to be in the air. What is this all about? What, for example, do zombies teach us about where we are today? And what do these various imaginings of the end of the world mean as we face the threat of global warming and, ultimately, extinction? This course explores the larger social, political, and aesthetic issues that surround our apocalyptic imagination as it relates to the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, or what Donna Haraway has named the Cthuluscene (after a species of spider, not the monster from Lovecraft). And it does so across global cultures. Moreover, the form of these aesthetic engagements with the present will also be compared with a form that many of us likely think has nothing to do with dystopian horror and science fiction films, but which, surprisingly, informs and inflects the genre: melodrama. The concept of melodrama as a genre classification has been expanded in recent years by feminist scholarship, pointing to its connections to noir and the women’s picture. Indeed, melodramas were originally films that consisted of dastardly criminals with bushy mustaches tying women to train tracks: the first action films! The pairing of the two terms, melodrama and apocalypse, is meant as a provocation, a challenge, to traditional genre categorizations (which were just made up in the first place, largely in the 1970’s). Moreover, when we look at the breadth of films that could be classified under this mashup of genre styles that we often think don’t belong together, but surprisingly do in strange and compelling ways, we begin to realize there may be more to this story. In the end, as it were, I think this combination of forms provides a good ground for us to explore larger questions related to horror and philosophy, apocalypse, dystopia, class, science fiction, race, the Anthropocene, gender, social theory and the unique form of cinema.

    Watching Children of Men we are inevitably reminded of the phrase . . . that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. That slogan captures precisely what I mean by ‘capitalist realism’: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible to even imagine a coherent alternative to it. Once, dystopian films and novels were exercises in such acts of imagination - the disasters they depicted acting as a narrative pretext for the emergence of different ways of living …

    —Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism
    Image: Children of Men

    Books (available at the bookstore)

    • Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times
    • Junji Ito, Uzumaki (3 in 1 volume)
    • Tony Williams, John Woo's Bullet in the Head
    Essays / Books (available on course website)

    Study Questions

    Short Pieces on Mad Max: Fury Road

    Films (studied in class)

    • Todd Haynes – Safe (USA, 1995)
    • Higuchinski – Uzumaki (Japan, 2000)
    • Bong Joon-Ho – Snowpiercer (South Korea, 2014)
    • Chris Marker – La Jetee (short) (France, 1962)
    • George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia, 2015)
    • Tsai Ming-Laing – The Hole (Dong) (Taiwan, 1999)
    • George Romero – Night of the Living Dead (USA, 1968)
    • John Woo – Bullet in the Head (Hong Kong, 1990)
    • Euros Lyn – “Fifteen Million Merits” from Black Mirror (UK, 2011)

    The particularity of cinema in the age of crisis is in how viewers relate to it. It isn't those imagined trajectories of the world order's collapse that is particular to crisis, but the desperate searching itself. So for us to call for an apocalyptic cinema is to call solely for a combative, striving post-apocalyptic stance in relation to the catastrophe that is contemporary capitalism and its films. It is in the degree to which we neither sit and weep because Daddy is dying nor drool because everything is illuminated, but rather start to sift, sort, and scrap, to ask what we can use and what should be rejected in full. A post-apocalyptic cinema is not a kind of film: it is a kind of space, an urgent diagonal cut to be made across the futile stagnancy of the day, a reclamation of the ruins, a refusal that neither flees nor abandons.

    —Evan Calder Williams, "An End Without End"
    Image:  [SAFE] (1995)

    I would be willing to revise the syllabus to include or incorporate any of the following films based on student input:

    • Jim Jarmusch – Only Lovers Left Alive
    • Philip Kaufman – Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    • Richard Kelly – Southland Tales
    • Fassbinder – World on a Wire
    • Lars Von Trier – Melancholia
    • Alfonso Cuarón – Children of Men
    • Abel Ferrara – 4:44: Last Night on Earth
    • Tsai Ming-Liang – Stray Dogs
    • Brian Trenchard-Smith – Dead End Drive-In (Australia, 1986)


    Students are responsible for completing all the assigned course work and are expected to regularly attend and participate in course discussions. Reading difficult texts is a major component of this course. If you are not prepared to read and interpret difficult and challenging material, you should not take this course. Students are expected to come to class prepared. That means that you have done the assigned reading, have thought about it, and have something relevant to say. Always bring the assigned reading material (for each particular day) to class. Always take notes. My lectures, comments, and rants constitute an important “text” for the course. Be aware that my style is casual and approachable—this should not detract from the seriousness of the work we do together (this style of presentation is meant to make it easier for you to grasp the material). There will be 2 “formal” papers required (following the requirements for segment III, see below). There will be a mid-term essay 5-pages in length, and a final essay 5-pages in length (typed and double spaced). There will be a handout on the essay assignments two weeks before each essay is due. Each essay must contain 5-pages of formal college level writing. Your essays must demonstrate mastery of the reading material and course lectures for the assignments (your grade will be based on this). All essays must be critical. No grade will be awarded for non-critical writing. No papers will be accepted via e-mail (no exceptions). (Please note that Wikipedia is NOT a critical source and cannot be used for college writing.) No rewrites of written work (no exceptions). No late papers accepted (no exceptions). Plagiarism in any of the course assignments, in any form, will be dealt with harshly and will be forwarded to the Dean’s Office for appropriate action. Plagiarism on any assignment will also result in a grade of zero. You must receive a letter grade on all assignments in order to complete the course. Students are responsible for all of the course content and materials even if they are absent (absences of more than two class sessions can result in your final grade being substantially lowered). No incompletes will be given, no exceptions. Please be aware that from time to time I may need to contact you via e–mail. In order to facilitate this, you will need to make sure that your SFSU e–mail account is actively working. I will not send these e–mails to a non–SFSU account. It is your responsibility to make sure your account is accessible and working.

    Please note that the schedule of papers is clearly listed in the course syllabus. I do my best to hand the papers back as soon as possible. My teaching builds on the work we do over the course of the semester. The schedule of papers (one midterm and one final) is based on this. Please be aware that the midterm papers do, in fact, come back to you in time to make any necessary adjustments for the final paper. (I understand that students prefer to receive feedback earlier in the semester: However, there are limitations to what can be done given the material I teach and the way I teach it, which builds over time. Please note that the generalized desire for everything to be “instantaneous,” which seems to mark the present, is part of what we are analyzing in this course. I’ve noticed this, especially, over the past few years in my courses.). The biggest mistake that students make on the midterm is to not actually read the assignment and/or not fully follow the instructions. Additionally, if your paper does not demonstrate that you’ve read the assigned books, you will be graded down significantly and may not receive a passing grade. Students need to include a S.A.S.E. (self addressed stamped envelope) if they want their final papers returned to them.

    This syllabus is part of the course materials. You are provided with a copy of the syllabus at the beginning of the semester and are expected to know the information contained within it the same way you are expected to know the information contained in the articles, books, and lectures. I reserve the right to grade you down based on your lack of knowledge of the syllabus and any other written directions. Refer to the syllabus before asking me questions (that I have already answered in writing). 


    No electronic devices allowed in the classroom. Cell phones are to be turned off in class. If you are caught text messaging in class, surfing the web, or playing video games, or engaging in any other non–course related activity, you will be required to leave the classroom. No eating in class (unless you bring enough to share with everyone). No electronic recording in the classroom.


    Enrollment in this course constitutes your agreement to abide by all of the above rules and policies.


    To meet the segment III writing requirement, you will be required to write two five page critical papers. These papers are “formal” and will be read and graded by the professor. You will be expected to argue coherently, to support your arguments with detailed examples from the works analyzed, to edit your papers for spelling, grammar punctuation and agreement, and to meet recognized standards for notes and bibliography when relevant. All of the above will be taken into account in the grading of these assignments.


    There may be in-class assignments as part of your participation grade


    SF State fosters a campus free of sexual violence including sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and/or any form of sex or gender discrimination. If you disclose a personal experience as an SF State student, the course instructor is required to notify the Dean of Students. To disclose any such violence confidentially, contact: The SAFE Place – (415) 338- 2208; http://www.sfsu.edu/~safe_plc/ Counseling and Psychological Services Center – (415) 338- 2208; http://psyservs.sfsu.edu/ For more   information   on   your   rights   and   available resources: http://titleix.sfsu.edu

    Students who do not attend the first class meeting will be dropped. It is the students’ responsibility to drop the course after the first class session. Students who stop attending but do not drop will be given a WU grade. Please be aware that a WU grade is counted as an F for GPA purposes. Enrollment in this course constitutes your agreement to abide by all of the above rules and policies.


    Students with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations are encouraged to contact the instructor. The Disability Programs and Resource Center (DPRC) is available to facilitate the reasonable accommodations process. The DPRC is located in the Student Service Building and can be reached by telephone (voice/TTY 415–338–2472) or by email: dprc@sfsu.eduhttp://www.sfsu.edu/~dprc/facultyfaq.html#1


    Attendance and participation: 10%
    Midterm Essay: 40%
    Final Essay: 40%
    Final Exam: 10%

    Electronic Version of Course Syllabus with Schedule

    Revised Course Schedule

    Header photo: "The Anthropocene" (2011) underwater sculpture by Jason de caires Taylor
    Inset photo: Children of Men (2006)
    Inset photo: Safe (1995)