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Reading the Post-Human: Animals and the End of the World - ENG00116H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Peter Sands
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

‘What the world has lost, and what truly matters, is a part of what invents and maintains it as world. The world dies from each absence; the world bursts from absence.’ For Vinciane Despret, each time it occurs, the extinction of a species marks the end of the world. Yet beyond the figure of the endangered species and the discourses surrounding nonhuman extinction, animals have long populated the pages of literary narratives about apocalypse.

In this module, we will examine the ways in which depictions of animals prove central to imaginings of planetary catastrophe, ecological upheaval, and human extinction. We will question how the idea of apocalypse—as a trope, genre, and broadly defined thematic—can allow us to rethink the category of the ‘human’ as it exists in relation to other animals. The module will centre, in other words, on two definitions of the posthuman: the school of criticism that seeks to deconstruct the human as a set of cultural, historical and philosophical ideals; and the question of what it means to imagine a world after humans.

Beginning with early-twentieth century depictions of catastrophe, we will trace the idea of apocalypse through the literature of the Cold War period before moving to representations of environmental catastrophe, extinction and responses to the Anthropocene (the geological ‘age of the human’) in contemporary texts. The module will explore how apocalypse is used by authors to unsettle the limits of human identity, and how depictions of the end of the ‘world’ draw into focus worlds that exist beyond the human. In particular, we will investigate how depictions of animals, animality and the posthuman intersect with parallel discourses of psychoanalysis, race, coloniality, gender and queerness. In addition to explicitly apocalyptic texts, the module will feature work from authors responding to apocalyptic conditions in the present, including nuclear colonial toxicity, racism, and contemporary discussions surrounding the ‘rewilding’ of ruined landscapes.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aim of this module is to develop an understanding of apocalyptic fiction through the lenses of animal studies and posthumanism. Students will develop a robust understanding of some of the foundational critical arguments in both fields, as well as an understanding of the secondary literature linking animals and apocalyptic literature. Through this lens, the module aims to demonstrate how both literary animal studies and posthumanism intersect with thinking on gender, race, coloniality, and queerness.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with apocalyptic fiction from the early twentieth century to the present.

  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the fields of animal studies and posthumanist theory (and their intersections with other critical fields).

  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with environmental catastrophe, extinction, and apocalypse.

  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
3000-word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

  • You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

  • Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

  • You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines


Task Length % of module mark
3000-word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Indicative primary texts:

  • J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World (1962)

  • Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

  • Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977)

  • Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos (1985)

  • Octavia Butler, Dawn (1987)

  • Laura Jean McKay, The Animals in That Country (2020)

Indicative secondary texts:

  • Neel Ahuja, ‘Intimate Atmospheres: Queer Theory in a Time of Extinctions’ (2015)

  • Claire Colebrook, Death of the PostHuman (2014)

  • Sherryl Vint, Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal (2010)

  • Mark McGurl, ‘The Posthuman Comedy’ (2012)

  • Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (2020)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.