SPR17: HUM415-1


HUM 415-01 Contemporary Culture
SPR 2017
T/Th 3.35-4.50 in HUM 582
Sean Connelly
Contact: connelly@sfsu.edu
Office location/ hours: in Hum 219 on T/Th 11-12

The Project

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

Those circumstances are determined by capitalism, a socio-economic system— i.e., a mode of production— that has effectively colonized every space on the planet including the human psyche in a rapacious quest for ever-increasing profits.

Since its first appearance 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.

Among the criticisms of global capitalism and its cultures is the tendency to

  1.  promote different forms of violence (imperialist, criminal, and structural)
  2. enrich the few at the expense of the many, thereby creating staggering levels of inequality
  3. generate spectacles wherein the social is experienced as a virtual realm of appearances mediated by ubiquitous screens
  4. obliterate consciousness of the past and visions of the future, which seem to dissolve into the fog of a “Permanent Now”.
  5. assert, often unconsciously, “the market” as the measure of all things– a disastrous fallacy which cuts to the roots of our individual and collective being, capturing our sense of self and distorting our fears and dreams.

The purpose of this course is to think about capitalism– particularly in its current neoliberal phase– in a way that defamiliarizes what we take for granted. By attempting to dismantle some of the common sense assumptions (ideology, hegemony) about this system we may carve out the freedom necessary to imagine what comes after it.

The methods we use for this inquiry are drawn from literary and cultural studies. We will learn how to analyze and interpret texts using the tools of semiotics and narratology.

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.


Every semester students fail my courses because they cheat. CHEATING DESTROYS trust between teacher and student. If you can’t trust your teacher, then you deserve a new one. This principle applies to students as well.
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. See also: Disability Program and Resource Center (338-2472 or dprc@sfsu.edu).

The Work: Grading Rubric

4 page Essay 10%
Class Work 30% (class participation, group work, pop quizzes, in-class writing)
Midterm 20% 3/9
Film Analysis Presentation 20%
Final Exam 20%

Notes on Reading

BUY HARD COPIES of the right books! You will be able to use hard copies for your exams. Read with a pencil. Flag significant passages. Always look for patterns. Talk about what you read.

Required Texts

Ballard, High-Rise 978-0871404022

Hawkes. Ideology. 978-0415290128

Okorafor, Binti. 978-0765385253

Pelevin, Homo Zapiens. 978-0142001813

Sunkara, et al. The ABCs of Socialism 978-1784787264


Abbott, Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (excerpt):  AbbottGlossary

“Allegory”; “Capitalism”; “Class”; “Commodity”; “Commodity Fetishism”; “Determinism”; “Dialectics” from Cultural Theory (Edgar and Sedgwick, eds.): CulturalTheoryKeyConcepts

MacKay, Cambridge Introduction to the Novel (excerpt): MacKayGlossary

Nichols, Engaging Cinema (excerpt): NicholsEngagingGloss


*High-Rise (Wheatley 2016)

*Snow Piercer (Bong 2013)

*Ravenous (Bird 1998)

*In the Dust of the Stars (Kolditz 1976)

Logan’s Run (Anderson 1976)

eXistenZ (Cronenberg 1999)

Lifeforce (Hooper 1985)


NOTE: “Assignment” = your assignment for the NEXT class meeting. ALL assignments should be PRINTED OUT and brought to class.

Week One: 1/24-1/26


In Class: Course Introduction; various clips;  Baraka, “A New Reality is Better Than a New Movie” (handout)

Assignment for Thursday 1/26: PRINT OUT and read the following PDFs:

Skidelsky, “Economists Versus the Economy”: skidelskyecon

Fraser, “The End of Progressive Neoliberalism”: nfraserprgnl

James Fulcher, Capitalism: Cap

Complete the Questionnaire: https://analepsis.org/questionnaire-2/


In Class:

Assignment for 1/31:

Badiou, “Reflections on the Recent Election”: badioureflections

Hall, et al. “After Neoliberalism: Analysing the Present”: After Neoliberalism

Week Two: 1/31- 2/2


In class: Killing Them Softly; Costello, “Tramp the Dirt Down”:  https://analepsis.org/2013/04/14/tramp-the-dirt-down/

Assignment for Thursday 2/2:

Print and Annotate Marx and Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party” (excerpt): ManifestoSec1

In Class: Boulos: https://vimeo.com/109003211; ICW1: In light of Marx, Engels, and Boulos what does the phrase “All That is Solid Melts Into Air” signify?

Assignment for 2/7: Eagleton, “What is a Novel?”: EagletonNovel; Ballard, High-rise (H)

Week Three: 2/7- 2/9


In class:
Assignment for 2/9: Ballard, H; “Storyworld”: Storyworld


In class: 
Assignment for 2/14: Ballard, H (complete); Villarejo, Film Studies (excerpts): VillarejoCH2 VillarejoGlossary

2/10: Drop/Add ends

Week Four: 2/14- 2/16


In Class: Discuss Ballard, H; Storyworld, Villarejo. Clips: High-rise (2016 d. Wheatley)
Assignment for 2/16: Gibbs, Mise-en-scene (excerpt): GibbsMES


In Class: Discuss Gibbs and Ballard; Film clips (TBA)

Week Five: 2/21- 2/23


In Class: Discuss Ballard; Film clips: ( TBA)

Assignment: “Allegory”: allegory ;  IPC, “We Are All Very Anxious”: http://www.weareplanc.org/blog/we-are-all-very-anxious/


In Class: Finish Ballard; Discuss IPC; Film clips: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave https://analepsis.org/2013/01/31/platos-cave-hum425/

Assignment: Hawkes, (I) Intro, Ch. 1

Week Six: 2/28- 3/2


In Class: Discussion

Assignment: Hawkes, I Ch. 2


In Class:

Assignment: Hawkes, I Ch.3

Week Seven: 3/7- 3/9


Assignment: Marx, “The Power of Money”


Week Eight: 3/14- 3/16






Assignment: Hawkes, Chs. 4-7

3/17: CR/NC deadline

Week Nine: 3/21- 3/23


Week Ten: 3/28- 3/30


In Class: Discuss Hawkes


In Class: Hawkes

Week Eleven: 4/4- 4/6


In Class:


In Class: Woke Pepsi, “My Lovin'”

Assignment: Pelevin, HZ

Week Twelve: 4/11- 4/13


In Class:

Assignment: Pelevin, HZ


In Class:

Assignment:  Pelevin, HZ

Week Thirteen: 4/18- 4/20


In Class:

Assignment: Sunkara, et al, The ABCs of Socialism (ABC)


In Class:

Assignment:  Sunkara, et al, The ABCs of Socialism (ABC)

Week Fourteen: 4/25- 4/27


In Class:

Assignment: Sunkara, et al, The ABCs of Socialism (ABC)


In Class:

Assignment: Wood, “Democracy as the Ideology of Empire”: DemoAsIdeoOfEmpire

Week Fifteen: 5/2- 5/4


In Class:



In Class: Film Analysis Presentations

Week Sixteen: 5/9- 5/11


In Class: Film Analysis Presentations


In Class:  Review

Week Seventeen: 5/16