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Post-apocalypse humanity subject of new ASU course

"The Triumph of Death," a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1562)
April 23, 2014

The end is near.

Or so humans have been saying for the last 2,000 years, at least.

Ron Broglio, an associate professor of English at Arizona State University, believes that the idea of an apocalypse has been a recurring theme in Western culture because it not only strikes fear in our hearts, it intrigues us. “We often understand who we are as a society when we are faced with our end,” he said. “We look at what we value, and through that, we can learn about ourselves.”

Broglio will teach a new ASU class this fall that uses literature, film and video games to explore such existential quandaries in detail. ENG 469: Catastrophe – A Survivor’s Guide (L/HU) will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30-5:45 p.m. in the John W. Schwada Building, room 201, to consider such questions as: Is our social system agile enough to adapt and deflect impending catastrophe? Are we able to make necessary short-term sacrifices to avert long-term disaster? Can combining scientific and humanistic knowledge enable us to come up with a usable “survivor’s guide"?

Course texts will include the novels “I am Legend,” by Richard Matheson, and “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy. Students will also look at other forms of media, like the 2011 film “Contagion” and the video game Plague Inc. Through these written and digital texts, students can learn to critically examine social patterns and common apocalypse story constructions, i.e. “man versus nature.”

But how can exploring end-of-days scenarios help us plan for the future?

“Fiction’s ability to provide palpable and affective understanding of the horror of civilization’s end allows us to reflect on our current state of affairs,” Broglio said. “This may help us consider the possibilities, or impossibilities, of averting catastrophe.”

Whether the idea of global catastrophe frightens or intrigues you, this is the class for you. Hurry, reserve your seat before it’s too late ... much too late.

The Department of English is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Written by Kira Assad