A Look Toward the Future: Post-Apocalypse and the DLR

by Kathryn Hampshire

Dr. Adam Beach, Chairperson for the Department of English at Ball State University, was one of the key players in starting the Digital Literature Review (DLR) in 2013, and he served as its faculty mentor again the following year; he will be rejoining the staff next year, this time with the theme of Post-Apocalypse. Recently, Dr. Beach sat down with Kathryn Hampshire, the teaching assistant for the DLR this year, to talk about his plans for next year’s journal.

Kathryn Hampshire: How did you first get involved with the Digital Literature Review?

Dr. Adam Beach: My colleague Dr. Debbie Mix and I came up with the idea together and wrote the proposal five years ago. We had this idea that we wanted to have an undergraduate journal in literature. We really felt like we needed to take some steps to give our students professional experiences, to get them writing for public audiences, and to decenter the classroom in a way that would give them more autonomy over the scholarship they were doing and the kinds of projects that they were working on. So that was our original idea.

KH: Since you taught it the first and second years, how did you become the instructor for the project for next year?

AB: We don’t have a real system in place, but people volunteer to teach it, and I thought it would be fun to teach it again. In the future, we want to get more people teaching it.. We have some younger faculty who I think want to teach it in the future, so we’re going to try to keep rotating it and get as many literature faculty involved as we can.

KH: How did you select the theme for this year’s issue?

AB: I’ve been reading so much post-apocalyptic fiction, and I know that a lot of students are interested in it. There’s also a lot of young adult literature around focused on apocalyptic themes, so I thought it would be a really cool topic and timely given everything that’s going on in the world today. I’m excited to investigate this topic further, and I think that a lot of students are as well. I tend to read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction because I think it’s speaking to a lot of anxieties that people have, and really have had, since at least the advent of the nuclear age. Although, this year I read Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, which was published in the early nineteenth century, which I think is considered to be one of the first post-apocalyptic fictions. So, I think there’s something about modern life that creates these anxieties about our future, and this literary form has been a way to deal with and manage those anxieties—or exacerbate them. I think especially now, given everything going on in our world and our country, people have a lot of anxiety, and so there’s been even more of an upsurge of this form, so I think it’s a good time to be exploring it and thinking about it.

KH: What kind of theoretical basis will you be using for this year’s class?

AB: We’ll be reading different theoretical work about different modes of apocalypse: of course, there’s religious apocalypses from the Book of Revelations, to more technological ones like The Matrix films, to even more fantastical ones like alien invasions and zombies. So, we will explore the different kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction and film, but we will also be thinking sociologically about why certain texts are popular at any given moment.  What does a text’s popularity say about a particular culture or a particular historical period in any society? Why are readers and viewers gravitating toward these texts? And I think we will also examine the psychoanalysis of reading: if we talk about anxiety, that gets us into psychoanalysis. How does fiction create anxiety, or maybe assuage anxiety, or help us manage anxiety? Going back to Aristotle, there’s the notion of catharsis, that we go to read and see really tragic action, and it kind of makes us feel better afterward. I’m really curious about that—does post-apocalyptic fiction help us manage anxiety, or is it actually creating a lot more anxiety in our society? I’m not sure what I think about that, but I want to explore these questions with the students.

KH: What else can students who sign up for the class expect?

AB: I think they’re going to have a great intellectual experience, and they’re going to develop an expertise in post-apocalyptic literature. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun: we’re going to learn a lot, and we’re going to be talking about things that are really relevant and really popular right now. I always think it’s good for us to think critically and really hard about what’s going on in our popular fiction and popular culture. But then they’re also going to get a ton of professional experience, getting to have leadership on the Editorial Team, the Publicity Team, and the Design Team, to have ownership over the project and to really be able to say, “I created that,” or, “I made that decision,” or, “I helped design that journal.” They’re going to get a lot of experience that will help them with job interviews. It’ll help them get their resumes in good shape, and it’ll give them experience that will be relevant throughout their professional lives. In the past when I’ve taught this class, I’ve never seen students work harder or accomplish more, and really grow, not just in terms of where they’re at, not just academically and intellectually, but also as people and as budding professionals, and that’s what our goal is.

KH: For any of our readers who are thinking about submitting for this edition of the journal, what kinds of submissions are you hoping to see?

AB: There’s just so much, there’s an endless variety: animated films, young adult fiction, fiction, movies. From Mary Shelley on, we have a ton of examples, and there’s just so much new post-apocalyptic fiction coming out. So I think it’s a great opportunity for students to do research projects and publish on works that really haven’t been studied very much, and that’s always exciting if you’re one of the first people to write an article about a new film or a new book that’s come out in the last ten years. I think that’s really exciting academically: to be able to put your voice out there and give a reading on the text right at the initial stages of when it’s starting to be studied.

KH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AB: I just have so much fun with the DLR. It’s the coolest teaching thing I’ve ever done—and the hardest. I think that a lot of the students would say it’s one of the hardest academic experiences they’ve ever taken on, but also one of the most satisfying. I always tell students how, since I graduated from college 25 years ago, the main things I remember now are the challenges, the classes and the professors that challenged me the most. Those are the things that I remember, and I’m pretty sure that students will remember the DLR 20 or 25 years after they graduate because it’s such a great and such an intense experience, but I think that it’s so worth it, and I hope that we can keep it going.

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