About the Syllabus
The syllabus concentrated readings among playwrights, cultural criticism, and philosophy in the American hemisphere. Assignments included—among other in-class activities—two short written response papers, a midterm exam and a final 10-12 page paper/exam or creative project. This is a reading and writing intensive course with opportunities for performance practice
Judeo-Christian Apocalyptic Tradition
We study the ideas of apocalypse in the Western philosophical tradition starting with Revelation by John of Patmos, written in the 1st century CE, and moving though Dante Alighieri's"Inferno" published in the Divine Comedy (1320) and several other works of art and influences on these primary texts. What we found in John of Patmos, not to be confused with St. John the Apostle, was that Revelation was written as an extremely volatile political rally call to the bishops of the near eastern Mediterranean to reject "paganism" of old Rome, the worship and memory of African goddess traditions that had prevailed in popular belief despite persecution. To combine the Revelation text to that of the apostles in editions of the bible, was also a political move to consolidate power in the Church to further purge these beliefs that threatened the hold on power by the bishops. Dante's Inferno consolidated the spatial mapping of up=heaven, and down=hell, with punitive measures for those who do not literally climb the ladder as depicted in the image above in the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Thus, apocalypse was always an order of the 'chosen' few who were deemed to avoid a tortuous 'fall' from grace based on their compliance with religious and later secular law.
Maya Quiché, Mexica Aztec Nahua Philosophy
As integral to our class, we read excerpts of the Popol Vuh, the Maya-Quiché "Book of the People," Aztec Philosophy by James Maffie, plays by indigenous playwrights in South, Central, and North America, and spoke with people in our community about Native American philosophical traditions. This material--especially in the first time this course was offered in 2012-- helped to dispel the false expectations of the "end of the Mayan calendar," and ground us in the closer to home realities of time, renewal, and the manifestations of a constantly changing universe. The result of studying different lineages of cultural production on a theme of apocalypse became clearer over the course of the semester: to de-authorize the universality of Euro-centric eschatological claims on the collective consciousness.
While living within the onslaught of catastrophe and doom, we sought to unravel a deeper story of cultural production that surrounds the Northern European idea of end of times in popular media, and in particular film produced in the United States. We asked critically why, when we are working from in a region of the world where cultural, spiritual, social, and political beliefs of renewal and continuity among human and non-human existence have circulated for thousands of years, why does the cultural industry of the United States (in a relatively short time since occupation) continue to produce understandings of so-called "apocalypse" based on Eurocentric and Judeo-Christian interpretations?
The answer led us to consider that we are under a continual enterprise of "conquest" that masks itself in discrete notions of past, final, and future time in an attempt to reorder and control its own perpetuity. The time of our class, while under militarized border control, is no exception. The work of our class, therefore, became an endeavor to expose these cultural underpinnings to the deep stories of enclosure and liberation. We found that these stories of "culture" undergird and shape judicial practices/law, health, climate, and the purpose of knowledge and technologies of our age.
Big questions in final projects
Hover over for each for the fuller question prompt.
Death and Return:
Back to the Bones
Recognizing that the apocalyptic tradition attempts to prophesize what orders the living and the dead, how does this tradition bear on the issue of reparations regarding the Ohlone ancestral bones and the Hearst Museum? What ways does an embrace (strategically or otherwise), revision, or refusal of specific apocalyptic traditions (or imaginations) around death, eschatology, and renewal, help to uncover the larger issues on campus dealing with knowledge production, geo-cultural space, and power?
Will the Revelation Revolution
This prompt asks for an analysis of a performance in screen based media, to ask the question: is this media enabling the kind of “revelations” that you think that we need in the world today? Or, with all of its hype, are we getting deluded into a false reality? Your answer need not fall neatly into a pro-tech or no-tech argument, but rather should grapple with questions of technology, community, production, and knowledge through any material that we have discussed in class.
Revelations and the New Order: At What Costs, and How to Find the Balance?
This prompt is a challenging one, asking you to weigh carefully the stakes of engaging with ideas of catastrophic change, the act of turning things upside down, or bringing people and histories back together in what could be considered a ‘new’ (or old) order. What can be gained, and how does that alter perspectives? This prompt allows you to move into an area of independent research on food production, social systems and migration, intergenerational relations, or climate change.
The organizing principles by which we live, must let me imagine…
This is a vision paper in which you are exercising your own creative capacities to imagine a future, and moreover, to suggest the organizing principles or logics of cultural production that must be in place in order for that future to materialize.