FA17 415-01


HUM 415-01 Contemporary Culture
FALL 2017
T 6.10-8.55 in Hum 386
Dr. Sean Connelly
Contact: connelly@sfsu.edu
Office location/ hours: in Hum 219 on M/W 11-12 and by appt.

The Project

Humanities 415 studies various forms of contemporary culture including the novel, film, poetry, visual culture, and music as a means of mapping the present.

Our objective situation is determined by capitalism, a socio-economic system that has penetrated every space on the planet including the human psyche in its quest for ever-increasing profits.

Since the advent of industrial capitalism roughly 200 years ago, many people have argued that this system is unsustainable because it depends upon the exploitation, objectification, and alienation of humans, animals, and a finite natural world.

It is in these senses and others that global capitalism possesses an imperial character– that it constitutes an Empire or totality to which there seems to be no outside.

In this course we will explore representations of this Empire of Capital, from the British Raj to post-colonial Kenya to post-Soviet Russia and beyond. To do this, we will use methods of analysis taken from film and literary criticism.

In doing so we will also experiment with ideas about what we might call capitalism’s Gothic character. If, as has been argued, capital is the “dead” form of human activity, the objectification of subjective qualities which then exert control over humanity, this system would seem to be haunted.

For example, money, which is merely a non-living symbol lacking any “real” content or referent, often determines human well-being. Its misallocation clearly leads to damaging outcomes, particularly for the poor, producing negative consequences such as ill health, lack of intellectual development, and shorter lifespans. The “dead” object of capital thus harms the living human subject, which suggests that the former feeds on the latter. Does this mean that money is a zombie? That usurers (bankers) are vampires?

As part of the critical-imaginative work we do for this course we will entertain the notion that capitalism is a kind of haunted castle with no exits.

Learning Outcomes

Diligent students will complete the course with a solid foundation in literary and formal analysis and and a richer understanding of the relationship between art and ideology.

Prerequisite: ENG 114 or equivalent.


Basic Etiquette

ARRIVE ON TIME,  work completed, with a hard copy of the assigned text. All assignments should be typed and include name/date/course. No electronic devices should be used during class.

Intellectual Honesty

CHEATING DESTROYS trust between teacher and student. If you can’t trust your teacher, then you deserve a new one. If you can’t trust your students, etc.

As a general rule any ideas/words that are not your own should be cited. Yet intellectual honesty encompasses more than actively avoiding plagiarism. For example, reading a wikipedia entry rather than an assigned novel or allowing others to do your work for you are examples of cheating.

See http://www.sfsu.edu/~vpsa/judicial/titlev.html


If there’s anything I should know about you as a student, please talk to me RIGHT AWAY and I’ll do my best to help. 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).

Other resources

The SAFE Place – (415) 338-2208; http://www.sfsu.edu/~safe_plc/

Counseling and Psychological Services Center – (415) 338-2208; http://psyservs.sfsu.edu/

Additional information on rights and available resources: http://titleix.sfsu.edu


The Work: Grading Rubric

4-6 page Essay 15% (Write an informed and incisive academic essay on one of the 4 novels assigned for this course. You MUST use key terms drawn from Kusch’s Literary Analysis in a thoughtful and germane manner. Due dates: Mygale [10/10], The Calcutta Chromosome [11/7], Empire V [11/28], Devil on the Cross [12/12]. Further details forthcoming.)

Class Work 25% (class participation, attendance, in-class work)

Midterm 20% (Short responses to key terms) 10/10

Film Analysis Presentation 20% 12/12

Final Exam 20% (Short responses to key terms) 12/19

Students are expected to complete the assigned readings, think about what they read, and actively participate in class discussion. Late work will not be accepted.


Required Texts

Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome 9780380813940

Jonquet, Mygale 9780872864092

Kusch, Literary Analysis: The Basics 9780415747103

Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital 9781844675180

Ngugi, Devil on the Cross 9780143107361

Pelevin, Empire V: The Prince of Hamlet 9781473213081


PRINT, read and bring all of the following texts to class except *

Armstrong, “Gothic Novel”: NArmstrongGothicNov

Baraka, “A New Reality is Better Than a New Movie”: A New Reality Is Better Than a New Movie

Eagleton, “Allergic to Depths”: AllergicDepths

*Encyclopedia of Gothic Lit: Encyclopedia_Of_Gothic_Lit

Gibbs, Mise-en-Scene (excerpt): GibbsMES

Hawkes, Ideology (Introduction, Ch. 4 only): Hawkes-IDEOLOGY

Marx and Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party”: ManifestoSec1

Marx, “The Power of Money”: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/power.htm

*McNally, Monsters of the Market (Ch. 3 only): mcnally11

Moretti, “Dialectic of Fear”: DialecticofFear

Roy, “Capitalism: A Ghost Story”: http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/capitalism-a-ghost-story/280234

Villarejo, Film Studies (excerpt):VillarejoCH2 VillarejoGlossary

Williams, “Dominant, Residual, Emergent”: WmsDRE

Notes on Reading

BUY HARD COPIES of the right books! Reading is an active, not a passive, pursuit. Read with a pencil and a dictionary. Flag significant/ difficult passages. Always look for patterns. Talk about what you read.



Robocop; High-Rise; Killing Them Softly; Glengarry, Glen Ross; They Live; Dark City; Pi; Naked; Snow Piercer; In the Dust of the Stars; Logan’s Run; Lifeforce; This Changes Everything; The End of Poverty?; Ravenous; The Skin I Live In; eXistenZ; Crimson Peak; Dracula; Sleep Dealer; Margin Call; Life Without Principle

Birth of an Empire: https://archive.org/details/BBC.The.Birth.of.Empire.The.East.India.Company.1of2.720p.HDTV.x264.AAC.MVGroup.org



Week ONE: 8/29


Screening: eXistenZ (1 hr 37 min)

Week TWO: 9/5

Due: Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto (sec. 1); Roy, “Capitalism: A Ghost Story”; Hawkes, Ideology (Introduction); Complete the Questionnaire.

Hand-outs: Baraka, “A New Reality is Better Than a New Movie”; Shire, “Home”

Screening: All That is Solid Melts Into Air; Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad (?)

Writing activity.

Group Work Assignment.

Week THREE: 9/12

Due: Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital (complete)

Clips: Wonder Girls, “Love Me Like Money”; Ravenous

Week FOUR: 9/19

Due: Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital (complete); Armstrong, “Gothic Novel”; Eagleton, “Allergic to Depths”; Kusch, Literary Analysis (thru Ch. 2)

Clips: Dracula

Week FIVE: 9/26

Due: Jonquet, Mygale (complete); Marx, “The Power of Money”

Clips: Face of Another; Dark Passage; Eyes Without a Face (?)

Week SIX: 10/3

Due: Gibbs, Mise-en-Scene; Villarejo, Film Analysis (Ch. 2); Hawkes, Ideology (Ch. 4)

Screening: The Skin I Live In (2 hr)

Week SEVEN: 10/10


Week EIGHT: 10/17

Due: Ghosh, Calcutta Chromosome; Kusch, Literary Analysis (through Ch. 4)

Mygale Essay Due

Week NINE: 10/24

Due: Ghosh, Calcutta Chromosome; Kusch, Literary Analysis (complete)

Week TEN: 10/31

Due: Moretti, “Dialectic of Fear”

Screening: Lifeforce (1 hr 56 min) NOTE: LOCATED in Hum 133

Week ELEVEN: 11/7

Due: Pelevin, Empire V

The Calcutta Chromosome Essay Due

Week TWELVE: 11/14

Due: Pelevin, Empire V

Week THIRTEEN: 11/21


Week FOURTEEN: 11/28

Due: Ngugi, Devil on the Cross

Empire V Essay Due

Week FIFTEEN: 12/5

Due: Ngugi, Devil on the Cross

Screening: They Live (1 hr 34 min)

Week SIXTEEN: 12/12

Film Presentations

Devil on the Cross Essay Due

Week SEVENTEEN: 12/19