Steven Wexler


English 312-03: Literature and Film
"The Dystopian Imaginary"
Fall 2009
Jerome Richfield Hall 319
W 4:00 PM - 6:45 PM
Office Hours: M W 9:30 - 11:00

Boulle. Planet of the Apes
Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451
Foucault. Discipline and Punish
London. The Iron Heel
Marx. The Communist Manifesto
Taylor. Modern Social Imaginaries
Orwell. 1984

12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam 1995)
1984 (Michael Radford 1984)
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott 1982)
Brazil (Terry Gilliam 1985)
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thomas 1972)
Clockwork Orange (Kubrick 1971)
Fahrenheit 451
(Francois Truffaut 1966)
GATTACA (Andrew Niccol 1997)
Metropolis (Fritz Lang 1927)
Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner 1968)
Sleeper (Woody Allen 1973)

This course examines film’s representation of powerful dystopian novels such as George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes.  A close look at the relationship between these texts and others (e.g., Metropolis, Clockwork Orange, Minority Report, and Brazil) will lay bare aesthetic and philosophical visions of post-apocalyptic, totalitarian, and corporate-run societies.

Course Objectives:

  • Understand that film and literary texts are forms of storytelling that reveal political and institutional sources of selfhood and human relations
  • Comprehend verbal and visual representations of these disciplinary forces through literal, implied, and symbolic levels, e.g., allegory and myth
  • Identify a text’s point of view, tone, exposition, and audience
  • Analyze ideology through the textual and visual, e.g., classism, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism
  • Recognize cultural diversity and cultural literacy through experiencing films and literary works
Course Evaluation:

There are five class projects:
  • Response Papers   
  • "Book-Film-Idea" Group Project
  • Final Essay
  • Blog
  • WebCT Posts (weekly)

1. Response Papers
Response papers (3 pages, @250 words per page, not including Works Cited) address a film and related novel. Draw from the novels, films, and theory mentioned in our supplemental readings and class discussions. Response papers should include critical and reflective analyses of the primary and secondary sources (film, book, and theory), posted on your blog, and feature the following:  

  • A logical flow of ideas with unified paragraphs and effective transitions
  • Effective incorporation of research materials
  • MLA documentation including works cited page
  • Posted on blog

2. "Book-Film-Idea" Group Project
Form groups (two groups per project) and discuss the relation between a book, film, and idea suggested by each. This group project entails a 30-minute class presentation (discussion not lecture), class activity, and short individual reflection. Help your classmates analyze content, style, and technique.  Consider the scene’s overall effect as well as the director’s/author’s strategies that you believe created that effect. Most important, help your classmates see how film and literature are both complementary and distinctive art forms. Requirements include the following:

  • Each group must design a class activity that engages the class in the project topic.
  • Each individual is responsible for a one-page (@250 words) reflection that describes in explicit terms how s/he contributed to the group project and why.
  • Posted on blog.

3. Final Essay
Your final, ten-page essay uses film and literature to put forth a specific critique of a contemporary issue that you find interesting and important. That is, go beyond our texts to establish a clear position on a central topic. How do our films and novels shed light on political, economic, and institutional realities?  Like your short essay responses, these longer essays should represent careful scholarly work.  Posted on blog.

4. Blog
Create a blog! During the first week of class, create a blog devoted to our theme, dystopian film and literature. Be prepared to discuss your blog to the class.  All writing projects will be created and posted on blogs 

5. WebCT
Each week, post an informal yet thoughtful response to our readings and class discussion on our WebCT page. This reflection is a very important part of our coursework and a great opportunity for you to establish a meaningful dialogue with your classmates since they will post there, too.  I don’t count words, but I do look for clear, convincing reflections in a conversational tone.  Make connections to texts and things outside the class; go beyond summarizing.

Begin here:

Class participation includes discussions, WebCT posts, student-instructor conferences, and workshop activities.  Everyone has something to contribute to the class, and there is always an opportunity to learn from each other.  If you do not feel comfortable speaking in class you may participate in other ways.  Although participation grades will not be distributed, I will be happy to discuss any questions you have about your progress.

Late work will not be accepted unless you have obtained an extension from me ahead of time. You must submit your essay even if you miss class on its due date. 

When you enroll in our class you make a commitment to your classmates. This is a participatory, collaborative workshop-style class and attendance is absolutely essential to our success. Grades are therefore dropped a letter after three absences.  An F is given after six.  You are responsible for completing and submitting any work due for a day that you miss and you must come prepared with any work required for the following class.  Please feel free to contact me or see me during my office hours to learn what you missed and how to prepare for the next session. 

I grade holistically, so no final grades will be given until your work is assessed in its entirety at the semester’s end.  Until then, I’ll write comments and suggestions on your papers and WebCT posts and discuss your progress in person. Please feel free to come by my office, email, or phone me if you have concerns.  

Academic Honesty:
It is important for you to be scrupulously honest in documenting the work that you have drawn from others.  Like other institutions, CSUN maintains a strict academic honesty policy.  Plagiarism is illegal and dishonest.  All cases of academic dishonesty must be reported to the Dean, who may suspend or permanently dismiss you from CSUN.  You will receive a course grade of F if you plagiarize in E312.


Please note that all course requirements and policies are subject to change. Not all readings are represented below. 
Work is due on the date it appearsEach week requires a WebCT post prior to class.

Introduction: Large vibrating eggs, the future, and you
Discuss syllabus

Course Vocabulary and Concepts
Choose Book-Film-Idea groups
Jameson's "The Politics of Utopia"
Book: Orwell. 1984
Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: Chapter 3 “Panopticism”
O'Flinn. "Orwell on Literature and Society" (WebCT)

Rorty. "The Last Intellectual in Europe: Orwell on Cruelty"
Howe. "1984--Utopia Reversed"
Book-Film-Idea Group #1, 1984
Film: 1984            

Biologism, "Genoism," and GATTACA
Book: Boulle. Planet of the Apes
Kerr. "Eugenics and the New Eugenics in Britain" (WebCT)
Book: Boulle. Planet of the Apes (cont'd)
Book-Film-Idea Group #2, Planet of the Apes

Film: Clockwork Orange
Althusser's “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”
Martin’s “Where did the Future Go?”

Benjamin. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"
Adorno and Horkheimer. "The Culture Industry"
Taylor's Modern Social Imaginaries
Book: Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
Film: Brazil

No Class

Book: Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
Taylor's Modern Social Imaginaries
Book-Film Group #3, Fahrenheit 451

Veteran's Day

Marx’s Communist Manifesto
Ebert and Zavarzadeh. “Daily Lessons on Class”
Response Papers Due on Blog
Film: Metropolis

No Class


Film: 12 Monkeys
Haraway. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century"   
Book: London's The Iron Heel
Book-Film-Idea Group #4, The Iron Heel

Blog Presentations
Closing Thoughts


Blogs Due with Final Paper


Group #1: 1984

Group #2: Planet of the Apes

Group #3: Fahrenheit 451

Group #4: The Iron Heel