The Millennium Cometh:
Apocalypse and Utopia in Bible, Sociology and Literature
Profs. John Coleman, S.J. (Sociology),  Felix Just, S.J. (Theology),  Holli Levitsky (English)
Loyola Marymount University - Spring 2000

Reading Guide, Discussion Questions and Writing Assignment for
The Sublime and the Grotesque

The following questions are intended both to help guide your own reading of the assigned texts, and to stimulate our small group discussions on Thursday, March 16.  Also, the instructions for your fourth written exercise are appended further below.

Tues, March 7

Literary Readings: Jorge Luis Borges, "The Aleph" (on library reserve or E-Res)

  1. The concept of the "aleph" is a turn towards the fantastic.  In what way(s) does the aleph seem to arouse fear or curiosity?
  2. Think about how the aleph allows for a description of a privileged universe.  What are the characteristics of that universe?  Why does it seem privileged?
  3. Does the fantastic admit the possibility of higher powers above humanity?
  4. How does the aleph involve active participation on the part of the reader?
  5. How does it question our sense of what is real and truthful?
  6. What is the relation between the aleph and utopia?
Literary Readings: Sigmund Freud, "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" (selection; on library reserve or E-Res)

Thurs, March 9

Biblical Reading:  re-read Rev 1, 4-6

  1. In the first vision of the resurrected Christ (Rev 1:9-20), what does each of the elements symbolize?
  2. In the throne visions of Rev 4 and Rev 5, compare what is done for and said about God with what is done for and said about the Lamb (Jesus).
  3. Why can only the Lamb open the seals on the scroll? What happens once the seals are broken?
  4. How have all these visions been translated into Christian art in medieval and modern times?
Extra-Biblical Readings:  The Apocalypse of Peter (Reddish, 243-254);  also read only the introductions to The Ascension of Isaiah 6-11 (Reddish, 277-280) and The Apocalypse of Paul (Reddish, 291-293), but not the full texts
  1. In ApocPeter 1-12, how closely do the punishments of wicked people correspond to the type of sins or crimes they committed?  According to ApocPeter 13-17, what rewards await the righteous people?
  2. How has the imagery of ApocPeter influenced later Christian art, esp. depictions of heaven and hell, or paintings of the Last Judgment?

Tues, March 14

Sociological Readings: Philip Lamy, "Secularizing the Millennium" (R&P, 93-117)

  1. How is the "secular millennium" of Soldiers of Fortune survivalists similar to different from religious millennial thought?
  2. How does a "mass culture critique" ( cf. p. 109) feed into apocalyptic imagination?
Sociological Readings:  Martha Lee, "Environmental Apocalypse" (R&P, 119-137)
  1. Which elements in the Earth-First belief system are apocalyptic? Which elements are utopian?
  2. Why would a belief in "biocentric equality" undermine a millennial belief system?
Sociological Readings:  John Bozeman, "Technological Millenarianism in the United States" (R&P, 139-158)
  1. On p. 151, we are presented with a theory about millenarian movements: push factors  +  pull factors + social and/or technical plausibility = social movement. Use this theory to apply to the Earth-First example in the Lee reading.
  2. What elements in eugenics or space colonization might contribute to a dystopia?

Thurs, March 16 - Discussion Groups

Writing Assignment for Block #4
[See the main page of Questions & Reflections for additional Writing Guidelines and Tips]

Choose two works of visual art: either two apocalyptic works, or two utopian pieces, or one of each  (but please do NOT merely use paintings of the "Last Judgment"). Your selections could be from the same artist, or from two different artists or different cultures or even different eras. They could be paintings, mosaics, frescoes, drawings, sculptures, etc. (but please do NOT use whole films or books).

Write a short essay (2-3 pages) in which you cover all three of the following points:
1) Briefly describe the main features that make these works apocalyptic or utopian.
2) Are there any biblical influences or connections in these works of art?
3) Discuss some of the factors (historical, psychological, sociological, etc.) that influenced the artist(s) toward more sublime or utopian depictions, and/or toward more grotesque or apocalyptic directions.  Obviously you cannot cover all possible factors comprehensively, but focus on a few specific factors in the artist's history, culture, or personality.

In addition to your 2-3 pages of good writing, append photocopies or printouts of your two chosen artworks (in color if possible, but do NOT rip pages out of any library books or journals!).

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