A new course from FASS: LIT 452 Seminar in World Literature


Writing Catastrophe, Reading Catastrophe

Matthew Gumpert


Western culture has long been in love with catastrophe. Truth itself is understood as something

transcendent, or something hidden: our very notion of interpretation is determined, in other

words, by an apocalyptic logic. The very strategies for reading in the West, or what we might call

hermeneutics, is a form of catastrophe theory.


It is possible, then, that all literature depends on catastrophe; that catastrophe is intrinsic to

literature itself. This course returns to some of the West’s most significant literary texts; read

in the light of contemporary works in philosophy and critical theory, these texts form a kind of

history of the catastrophic. Along the way a dialogue will emerge between literature and theory:

one that will allow us to construct a typology of catastrophe in the West.


Throughout the semester various contemporary disasters, both natural and unnatural, from the

2004 tsunami to 9/11, will figure as recurrent motifs and contemporary points of reference.