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Unit information: Presenting the Future in 2015/16

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Unit name Presenting the Future
Unit code ENGL20044
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Punter
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit explores some of the ways in which literary texts have sought to envision the future. Selected speculative fictions from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries will be studied with a view to examining the possibilities of relating fictions to their historical contexts. There will be an emphasis on a continuing series of arguments about the nature and uses of technology, as well as on the concept of modernity.

The unit aims to develop understanding of the ways in which literature mediates between past, present and future. Students will be encouraged to seek connections between literary presentations of the future and the deeper structure of fears, anxieties and expectations which are encoded in the texts.

On completion of this unit, students will be expected to have deepened their understanding of how literature treats the future; they will have been encouraged to speculate on ways in which ‘imaginative writing’ actually constructs that future, in the sense that it creates a series of metaphors without which we might be unable to understand it. The topic will thus necessarily open up questions about the role literature plays in how we understand the world, relations between the literary and the ideological, and the constitutive powers of the cultural imagination.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have

  1. developed a detailed knowledge of modern fiction of the future;
  2. developed a critical understanding of key texts;
  3. acquired an understanding of major critical approaches including structuralism, psychoanalysis, feminist and Marxist approaches;
  4. demonstrated their ability to analyse and compare various texts from different periods within the twentieth and twenty-first centuries;
  5. strengthened their skills in academic writing, argumentation, and evaluation of evidence from primary texts and critical literature.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

  • 1 essay of 2000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3000 words (60%)

The 2000 word summative essay assesses ILOs 1-3 and 5. The 3000 word summative essay assesses ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

J.G. Ballard, Vermilion Sands (1971)

Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)

William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1985)

Philip Cooke, Back to the Future: Modernity, Postmodernity and Locality (London: Unwin Hyman, 1990)