Contemporary American Literature: Cli-Fi

Institution: Western Illinois University

Instructor: Everett Hamner

Description: This course considers emerging directions in early twenty-first-century US novels and films as they increasingly engage pressing questions about anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. Moving slowly through four major novels and two daring films, most of which were published or released in 2017, we will ask how and why our species is collectively hurting the odds of its long-term thriving on this planet, not to mention neglecting more immediate opportunities for environmental justice. The course’s first task is to ensure that we all understand both the basics of climate science and the political agendas that have often succeeded in obfuscating it. In this phase, we will read Ashley Shelby’s humorous and revealing tale of the lives led by researchers, artists, and support personnel working at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. That story’s controversy over a climate change denialist sets up a more introspective treatment of climate change’s intersections with class, educational background, patriarchal culture, and religious community in Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. This second segment of the course also features the simultaneously realistic and fantastic film Beasts of the Southern Wild, a post-Katrina celebration of love across races and generations. The course’s third section is devoted to one of the longest novels I have dared to assign undergrads, Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic New York 2140. Taking a full five weeks to digest its pages, we will use the novel as a climactic opportunity to think through the psychology of humanity’s widely divergent responses to climate change, including our own. With attention to both very practical and more abstract questions, we will especially consider the inextricability of “global weirding” from enormous social structures and the economics of global capitalism. Finally, in the course’s last weeks, we will return to cli-fi’s blurring of realism and fantasy via the enormously provocative Darren Aronofsky film mother! and Charlie Jane Anders’s delightful and illuminating All the Birds in the Sky. This final novel will also allow us to consider how cli-fi can transgress common distinctions between general and Young Adult fiction, perhaps fitting a nascent classification as New Adult fiction.

Country: United States

Syllabus: Contemporary American Literature: Cli-Fi

Listed on UC-CSU NXTerra‘s Climate Fiction page by Professor Nicole Seymour. UC-CSU NXTerra is a resource for college teachers from across all disciplines and anyone seeking to enhance their teaching and learning about the climate crisis, critical sustainability, and climate justice studies, both inside and outside the classroom.