Course Description and Objectives

Imagining the End of the World

MHC 356.01 (0985) or ENG 463.01 (2806)

(Register via Lehman College, class held at Macaulay Honors College)

Professor Lee Quinby

Fall 2011, Tuesdays, 3 to 5:30 PM

Professor Quinby


Office hours: T/W 2-3 PM

John Sorrentino, ITF


Office hours: T/W afternoons (by appt.)

Apocalyptic destruction has long been a mainstay of Hollywood, and television has increasingly joined this trend that blends doomsday with entertainment. A significant number of works of American literature also reflect fascination with the idea of an end to the world—or the world as we know it. Often, the threat of an apocalyptic day of doom serves as a warning about the immorality of American life. The Left Behind series, for example, charts a Fundamentalist Christian view of the Endtime, from the Rapture and Tribulation to Armageddon and New Jerusalem. From a secular stance, some American apocalyptic writers and filmmakers use the threat of doomsday to launch an ironic critique of American gullibility and superficiality. And many these days see December 21, 2012 as either a portent of total catastrophe or one that ushers in a new age of supreme consciousness.

Clearly, America has apocalyptic gusto.

But why has American culture been so receptive to doomsday belief? In this course, we will explore the antecedents of contemporary American doomsday belief in order to grasp the history, structure, imagery, and drama of apocalyptic narrative and to analyze its effects on individuals and society. By learning to recognize its narrative logic as manifest variously in religious, literary, and cinematic texts, we will gain an understanding of the ways in which doomsday belief shapes everyday perceptions in our own time, including impulses toward moral certitude and violence. We will investigate the ways in which apocalyptic narratives are produced by and further produce gender and sexual oppositions and states of paranoia. We will reflect on how the human imagination accentuates anxiety and seeks reassurance in the face of finality.