The project of Humanities 415 Contemporary Culture is to develop a deeper understanding of the contemporary period by studying the relationship between expressive forms— including literature, cinema, and visual culture– and history.
Our present is the outcome of a long process reaching back many thousands of years to the origins of human society.
While elements of the past may lose their practical or symbolic relevance and recede into obscurity, some of the forces that produced our world actively persist and determine the present.
Capitalism is easily the most significant socio-economic structure shaping modernity and thus our common situation today. Though a relatively recent development, the proliferation of capitalist social relations has remade the world and the people in it. Its origins– a tangled process of “primitive accumulation” including land enclosure, colonialism, and chattel slavery– continue to influence both the material conditions and the “cultural logic” of the present.
Reaching further back, the complex encounter between Islam and “the West” which began in the early Middle Ages continues to unfold. The USA and its allies, for example, have devoted decades to the bombardment, surveillance, and subversion of peoples and governments of the Middle East. Even now, the campaign to recapture Jerusalem in 1187 led by Yusuf ibn Ayyub (more commonly known as Saladin) endures as a potent symbol of resistance to Western imperialism in the Islamic world.
Our purpose in this course is to examine the roots of the present and investigate how the past is represented in contemporary culture. We will focus on two historical phenomena: the Haitian Revolution and the so-called Crusades. In addition, we will dip into post-apocalyptic fiction in order to explore the ways that our (partial, highly ideological) collective historical imagination informs our visions of the future.
To start we’ll generate a lexicon of keywords drawn from cultural theory and formal analysis.