This course will explore the ways that literary and cultural texts from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first have engaged with bioethical dilemmas and discourses. We will work with a broad definition of “bioethical” but will focus on two main areas: 1) medical and bio-technological innovations (actual and imagined) that have led writers to rethink understandings of “humanness” and “life” and 2) literary representations of unequal access to health and well-being. Topics will include constructions of race in relation to reproductive technologies, the unequal global burden of illness and unequal access to health care technologies, the implications of assisted reproduction innovations, understandings of mind and brain, and confrontations of genetic editing technology discourse with disability theory and activism. Our objects of study will be medical texts and popular science-focused publications as well as novels, short stories, and films, including such texts as the 1861 medical novel Elsie Venner, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Joseph Green’s 1962 film The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, and the 2000 science fiction novel The Midnight Robber by Jamaican-Canadian writer Nalo Hopkinson.
In this course, we will study contemporary African American fiction in its historical, political, and literary contexts. As we read these works and relevant scholarly texts, we will consider questions of periodization, genre, and literary tradition. We will study the function of genres such as satire, contemporary narratives of slavery, science fiction, realism, gothic fiction, and horror in our readings. We will think through the utility of periodizing terms such as modernism, postmodernism, post-soul, and hip hop generation for understanding these works. We will investigate whether there are formal and thematic characteristics that define contemporary African American fiction. Throughout the term, we will consider how these contemporary works participate in, reflect on, complicate, or otherwise engage the broader tradition of African American literature that spans the late 18th century to the present. This course requires substantial reading and writing and vigorous participation.