HUM 415 | Contemporary Culture
SPRING 2017
Tuesday/Thursday, 2:10PM – 3:25 PM in HUM 582
Dr. Robert C. Thomas
E-mail: theory@sfsu.edu
Office HUM 416, Office Hour: Thursday 3:20 – 4:20 PM
This course satisfies the following requirements: Upper Division, UD-C: Arts and/or Humanities SF State Studies: Global Perspectives, Segment Three

Electronic Version of Course Syllabus

PROFESSOR’S STATEMENT

Since 2004, an integral component of my Contemporary Culture course has been the use of science fiction film and literature as a paradigm for thinking the present. Most recently I have focused on apocalypse, zombies, disaster films, contemporary capitalism, and the Anthropocene. Suddenly, as the world around us became even more of a disaster in 2016, I faced a quandary: How do I continue teaching work in social theory and philosophy in ways that are fun and engaging, but that also give my students tools for navigating the historical present? I also faced a quandary with the assigned classroom: It’s super crummy. Also, the time of day: Not so good. So, civilization is ending faster than we thought AND the classroom kinda sucks. Here’s an idea: Let’s make the course about Rick and Morty. Let’s use Rick and Morty as a paradigm (a way of thinking-in-images, or of thinking-beside-images) for reading this historical present.

COURSE DESCRIPTION

This course will think philosophy, social theory, and contemporary culture through the show Rick and Morty. Not only will we think seriously about the philosophical-existential questions the show plays with, including its fun references to popular culture, we will also think seriously about the form of Rick and Morty. Thus, in addition to studying contemporary social theory (In the Dust of this Planet), and philosophy from figures like Nietzsche, Baudrillard, Deleuze, and others, we will also think seriously about the form of cartoons, networked media, and video games. Students will be introduced to concepts like simulacra/simulation, the hyper-real, the post-cinematic, etc. In addition to select episodes of Rick and Morty, we will analyze an episode of Star Trek (“Mirror, Mirror”), study David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and other works of visual expression as the crappy classroom and course time we have been assigned allows. The course will begin with 8-bit Philosophy’s “The Philosophy of Rick and Morty.”

Below is a preliminary reading list. This list, as well as the syllabus, will be revised based on consultation with the students on the first class session. We will begin the class with Mauricio Lazzarato’s Governing by Debt, a book about what it means to live in relation to the apparatus of higher education in the United States: How does the apparatus of higher education make and unmake us as students and debtors? This book will also serve as our introduction to the concept of apparatus, which points to how we are made and unmade by our social structures.

Books (available at the bookstore)

  • Mauricio Lazzarato, Governing by Debt
  • Ian Bogost, How to Do Things With Video Games
  • Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of this Planet

Assigned Essays (scans or downloads)

  • JG Ballard, “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan” (optional)
  • Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations”
  • Alfie Bown, Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism (selections)
  • Gilles Deleuze, “Plato and the Simulacrum” (optional)
  • Mark Fisher, “Reflexive Impotence” from Capitalist Realism (optional)
  • Brian Massumi, “Realer than Real: The Simulacrum According to Deleuze & Guattari”
  • Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (selection)
  • Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals from The Nietzsche Reader
  • Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil from The Nietzsche Reader
  • Nietzsche, “Fragment on European Nihilism” from The Nietzsche Reader
  • Celeste Olalquiaga, The Artificial Kingdom (selections)
  • Shaviro, “What is the Post-Cinematic?”
  • Steve Shaviro, “Bodies of Fear: David Cronenberg”
  • Steve Shaviro, “Splice”
  • Mckenzie Wark, Gamer Theory (selections)

Films

  • David Cronenberg, The Fly (USA/1986)
  • Stuart Gordon, From Beyond (USA/1986)
  • Chuck Jones, Duck Amuck (USA/1953)
  • Chris Marker, La Jétee (France/1962)
  • Vincenzo Natali, Splice (Canada/France/USA/2010)
  • Frederic Wiseman, High School (USA/1968)

TV Shows

  • Rick and Morty (select episodes)
  • Star Trek, “Mirror, Mirror”

Videos

• 8-Bit Philosophy, “The Philosophy of Rick and Morty”