HUM 415 || Contemporary Culture

Fall 2013
Dr. Robert C. Thomas
9:35am – 10:50am || HUM 408

Course Description

This version of Contemporary Culture is organized under the rubric of imagining the political. If you have no idea what that means, you’re not alone. A quick look around confirms that thinking imaginatively or even differently about the political—or even considering doing so—is something seemingly banished from our everyday lives.  As someone once said: it’s easier for us to imagine the end of the world than it is for us to imagine the end of capitalism.  So, what kind of system do we have where so much energy is expended on preventing us from even thinking about, let alone imagining, any alternatives to what currently exists? This course poses these and other questions at the intersection of thought, aesthetics, and politics. Rather than definitively answer these questions, the course is intended as a guided study of this problematic in diverse areas—e.g. time, education, and work—and through the example and study of diverse forms of expression, such as music (including file sharing, 8-tracks, and psychedelic children’s music), science fiction and horror film, the Situationist International, and contemporary theory and philosophy. As if to demonstrate the efficacy (and, frankly, the lulling seductiveness) of our main thesis, we will spend a great deal of time analyzing dystopian “end of the world,” science fiction, and horror film in relation to the historical present. What do these films teach us about contemporary culture? What are these films imagining? We will read difficult work by theorists such as Mark Fisher, Evan Calder Williams, McKenzie Wark, Guy Debord, and Jonathan Crary and study films by Nagisa Oshima, Chris Marker, George Romero, Dan O’ Bannon, John Carpenter, Frederick Wiseman, and Vincenzo Natali.

Required Books (available at the bookstore):

  • Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism
  • Evan Calder Williams – Combined and Uneven Apocalypse
  • Mckenzie Wark – The Spectacle of Disintegration
  • Jonathan Crary – 24/7

Required Essays (Print, Read, Bring to Class) Note: “Online” essays are linked in this section of the syllabus on the course website. “Articles” are under the “Articles” tab on the website.

Required Films (shown in class):

  • John Carpenter – They Live (USA, 1988)
  • Russ Forster – So Wrong, They’re Right (USA, 1995)
  • Richard Lester – The Bed-Sitting Room (UK, 1969)
  • Chris Marker – La Jetée (France, 1962)
  • Oshima Nagisa – Tôkyô sensô sengo hiwa (The Man Who Left His Will on Film aka ) (Japan, 1970)
  • Oshima Nagisa – Kōshikei (Death by Hanging)  (Japan, 1968)
  • Vincenzo Natali — Splice (USA, 2010)
  • Dan O’ Bannon – Return of the Living Dead (USA, 1985)
  • George Romero – Night of the Living Dead (USA, 1968)
  • Frederick Wiseman – High School (USA, 1968)

ASSIGNMENTS
Students are responsible for completing all the assigned course work and are expected to regularly attend and participate in course discussions. Students are expected to come to class prepared. Prepared 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 papers will be accepted via e-mail (no exceptions). No rewrites of written work (no exceptions). No late papers accepted (no exceptions). No incompletes will be given, 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). 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.

SEGMENT III WRITING REQUIREMENT
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.

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

STATEMENT ON DISABILITIES
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.edu, http://www.sfsu.edu/~dprc/facultyfaq.html#1

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

Films that SFSU does not own will be on reserve at Academic Technology, which is located in Library 85 (on the ground floor). You will have to ask for the DVD’s listed under my name. They will be placed on reserve after the films are shown in class. http://www.sfsu.edu/~avitv/

Adobe PDF of course syllabus with schedule

HUM 415 2013 Fall 3