Important: Zoom meeting for Tuesday, March 28

Another bombogenesis/storm event is scheduled to land tomorrow morning in the Bay Area.  To minimize risk and inconvenience, let’s get together tomorrow to talk about Severance via Zoom.  Check your SFSU email account for proper link to join etc.  See you tomorrow morning!

For Tuesday (3/28)

For Tuesday after spring break (3/28), let’s talk about Ling Ma’s fantastic debut novel – – Severance.

Enjoy your recess!

For Thursday (3/9) and Tuesday (3/14)

“The spoliation of the church’s property, the fraudulent alienation of the State domains, the robbery of the common lands, the usurpation of feudal and clan property, and its transformation into modern private property under circumstances of reckless terrorism, were just so many idyllic methods of primitive accumulation. They conquered the field for capitalistic agriculture, made the soil part and parcel of capital, and created for the town industries the necessary supply of a “free” and outlawed proletariat.” – – Karl Marx, Chapter 27Capital Vol. 1

Let’s finish reading The Water Knife for Tuesday, March 14.

For Thursday, here’s our asynchronous event:

“She saw the world clear,” Maria says to herself early in the novel.  “For once, she realized she was seeing the world clear.  No wonder Papa kept himself pretending.”

“Seeing the world clear” seems to be important to all the main characters (Angel, Lucy, Maria) in the novel.  Choose one of these characters and explain what “seeing the world clear” means to them.  Why is it important to see things this way? What’s the problem with not seeing things this way? Do you see evidence that this ambition might be more complicated or contradictory for your selected character?

Write a couple of paragraphs in your existing google doc – – separated from the rest of your work by a heading like: “For Thursday, March 9” or “The Water Knife,” etc.  Probably no more than 500 words.  Try to complete this by Sunday night so that I can take a look at your work by Monday.

Bonus: If you’re interested in reading Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, click on this link.  (Password: Desert).  Once you download the file, you should be able to read it in either Apple Books or Kindle.

For Tuesday (3/7)

Thanks to some damn pathogen, I’m about 48 hours behind on everything.  Let’s forget about Thursday (3/2) and move on.

For Tuesday (3/7), read up to Chapter 14 in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife.  These are novels we’re reading, but once again it seems as if reality is finally catching up with fiction. (If you have difficulty accessing the NY Times, remember you already have a digital NY Times account if you’re an SFSU student.)

For Thursday (2/23) [and Tuesday 2/28]

For Thursday, read up to the end of Part Two of Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman.

Our asynchronous activity for Thursday is pretty straightforward: Toward the end of Part Two, Henry tells Ruth-Ann, the waitress at his favorite diner, that he feels like he “wasn’t made for these times.”  Ruth-Ann answers: “I don’t know kid . . . I think maybe you’re the only person who was.”  Is Ruth-Ann right or wrong?  I.e. in what ways is Henry the kind of person – – and/or not the kind of person – – made for the pre-apocalyptic times depicted in The Last Policeman?  Write a couple of paragraphs answering this question – – and use concrete examples to illustrate/develop your response.  (Remember: just open up your google doc and make a new entry.) Try to finish this up by Saturday afternoon.

I’ve posted a page describing your first two-page reflection essay.  See the link to the right titled “The Omega Men assignment” or click on this link.  Read over the assignment and bring any questions to class on Tuesday, when we’ll discuss the whole of Winters’ novel.

For Thursday (2/16) [and Tuesday (2/21)]

For Thursday:

Check out The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston.  This is the 1971 remake of Matheson’s I Am Legend.  You can view the full movie here. (The motherblog will request a password, and the password is: “Omega” (without quote marks).). See notes on the movie page if you seem to be having playback problems.

Our asynchronous learning event for Thursday’s class is this – – compare one motif across all of our versions (so far) of I Am Legend.  Here’s how to do it:

  • first, select one motif or element from our previous versions of I Am Legend. Here’s a list of some possible motifs/elements: “the car,” “the house,” “Robert Neville” (external traits like wardrobe, physical type, speech, etc.), “the city,” “the vamp/monster,” “soundtrack,” “opening sequence,” “the new Eve” (my moniker for the various versions of Ruth from I Am Legend), etc.
  • second, after selecting one motif, create a new entry in your google doc.  This is where you will compare your motif or element across all versions of I Am Legend.  Compare the motif by paying careful attention to the concrete differences and similarities among the versions of the I Am Legend narrative, i.e. “the car” in Matheson, Last Man on Earth, and Omega Man, etc. Describe and note these differences and similarities in your google doc. Probably, you can just use phrases or even adjectives to describe these differences/similarities.
  • finally, reflect a little on the differences and/or similarities you see.  What do these tell us about shifting genres for the narrative?  What do they say about the different historical contexts of each version? What do they tell us about the shifts in thematic focus as the narrative “mutates” across time? This reflection should be in standard, written prose and will probably require more than 250 words.

Try to complete this analysis by Saturday afternoon.

When we meet next Tuesday, you’ll want to have viewed the latest version of I Am Legend, the 2007 movie starring Will Smith.  You can view this version here. (Password: “Legend”). On Tuesday, we’ll try to discuss the whole oeuvre inspired by Matheson’s original novella as well as its significance as one central strand in the post-apocalyptic genre.

Questions?  Let me know.

For Thursday (2/9) [and Tuesday (2/14)]

For Thursday, take some time to answer the following questions in your google doc.  (Use your existing google doc and insert a new header – – “Thursday, Feb. 9: Last Man on Earth,” copy the questions into the doc and enter your answers.)  You’ll probably want to write at least 150 words for each question (and probably no more than 250). Try to complete the writing event by Saturday (2/11) morning.  Here are the questions:

  1. Setting: what details help to define the setting as “post-apocalyptic”? (Be very specific here and try to quote from the text itself.)
  2. Protagonist: what are Robert Neville’s main character traits (physical, social, psychological)? What are his goals? (Character traits are usually adjectives that describe aspects of a character’s personality: greedy, happy, self-interested, etc.  Use examples to illustrate and support your traits.) 
  3. Antagonist: how are Neville’s enemies defined?  What makes them “different”? How are they delineated in terms of appearance, traits, and goals?  What are the most threatening/dangerous things about them? Are there any similarities between Neville and his enemies? 
  4. The social contract. What kind of “society/societies” or social organization/s emerge/s in the post-apocalyptic world?  In what significant way is this “society” different from our conventional/pre-apocalyptic world? How is it similar?

For Tuesday, take a look at the 1964 film version of Matheson’s novella – – the Italian production of Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price.  As you watch the film, you might think about where it differs from I Am Legend and where it seems more faithful to Matheson’s book.  You can watch the flick here or on YouTube.

For Tuesday (2/7)

For Tuesday’s class – – in our classroom – – you’ll want to read Richard Matheson’s classic post-apocalyptic narrative: I Am Legend (1954). [Try to get to at least the end of Chapter 10.]  (Available free online here on the motherbog.) This will be the first version of the “last man” narrative that we read.

Though Matheson’s novella is classified as “science fiction,” we might start by considering it as a rewrite of one of the first novels in English – – Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, an 18th-century narrative about a shipwrecked sailor who must survive on his own. “From this moment I began to conclude in my mind that it was possible for me to be more happy in this forsaken, solitary condition,” Crusoe reflects at one point, “than it was possible I should ever have been in any other particular state in the world.”  We can already see the existential themes and questions posed by Defoe and developed (a bit obsessively) by Matheson: what does a “man alone” need to survive – – both materially and psychologically? what threats does such a survivor face – – externally and internally?  Can one ever truly exist apart from society? How do memories of and relations with a “gone-away” world both sustain and disable us?

This is pretty heady stuff, perhaps, especially for pulp fiction like Matheson’s.  We might start our discussion with a much more specific question: in a kind of Carvana paradise – – where Neville can pick and choose from any car he wants to drive, why does he stick with a Willys station wagon – – the Toyota Sienna minivan of 1954?


For Thursday (Feb. 2) [and Tuesday (Feb.7)]

For Thursday (Feb.2), read Ben Lindbergh’s essay – – “Post-Apocalyptic Media in the Time of a Pandemic.”  Lindbergh’s brief piece reflects on his fascination with post-apocalyptic narratives as the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world.

In a short piece of writing (no more than 250 words) think about and respond to these questions: What is the main reason Lindbergh seems to settle on to explain his fixation on post-apocalyptic narrative in the spring of 2020? How does Lindbergh’s explanation jibe with your own (possible) fixation or appreciation for post-apocalyptic narrative in these pandemic times?

You will submit your response via google docs.  See this page for some basic instructions about how to create and share your writing with me.  Try to finish your writing by and share your document with me by Friday (Feb. 3) at noon.

If you want to get a head start on our next in-class session, read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954).  You can find an online/free/downloadable copy of the book here.

Final note. For those who have requested and received permission numbers to enroll in the class, I received this communication from SFSU administration this morning: “Note: Permission numbers won’t allow a student to enroll in a full or closed course until the second week of classes, although some AOCs and department chairs have access to issue permission numbers that will let a student into a class that is full/closed.” In other words, you won’t be able to actually use the permission number until next week.  Ours is not to reason why – –  evidently.  If you’ve received a permission number, hang in there.  All will be well.