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2023/24 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL5940M Planetary Aesthetics: Animism, Mimesis and Indigeneity

30 creditsClass Size: 10

Module manager: Dr Sam Durrant

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

Module replaces

ENGL5833M - The Magic of Mimesis

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

This module explores literature and film which ask us to identify across racial and species borders and thereby begin to imagine forms of planetary community. In particular we will attempt to learn from African and other Indigenous cultures once described as animist how to see the world from other-than-human perspectives.


This module seeks to introduce students to Indigenous understandings of the world and their relation to the “planetary” turn in the humanities. Anthropologists, environmental philosophers and political activists have begun to recognise the vital importance of conceiving the world from ecological, “extra-human” perspectives, and many have turned to the example of Indigenous cultures that are guided by non human beings, beings understood to possess agency, intention and even personhood.

We will critically explore this turn to cultures once pejoratively described as animist through a carefully curated set of essays, novels and films which students are invited to respond to in weekly online discussion board posts and weekly two hour seminars.

Learning outcomes
On successful completion of this module, you should be able to:
1. Demonstrate sophisticated knowledge and understanding of a range of Indigenous literary and filmic texts and their contexts
2. Develop a capacity for independent critical thought and obtain a critical and reflexive understanding of their own ethical relation to such texts and cultures and of the value and limits of an aesthetic education.
3. Place these texts in dialogue with a range of interdisciplinary debates around animism, ecology, Indigeneity and mimesis.
4. Articulate understanding in dialogue with your peers and in carefully argued academic essays.


Artistic production is often commodified as the direct representation of one’s own experience, or, slightly more broadly, of one’s ‘community’: hence black literature, gay literature, Asian-American literature etc. Arguing against this “reduction of the ethics of alterity to a politics of identity,” Gayatri Spivak insists that the vital task of aesthetic education remains “at all costs to enter another’s text.” In an age of environmental crisis, this means attempting the task of imagining life not only from the perspective of various marginalised humans, but from the perspective of the planet. While such a task is, strictly speaking, impossible, Spivak, along with many contemporary environmentalists, anthropologists and philosophers, suggests we can learn much from the “responsibility-thinking” of Indigenous cultures, and their mimetic or “animistic” capacity to identify with the more than human world. Colonial anthropology invented the term animism to describe cultures that ascribe spirit, agency and/or personhood to non-human entities. While remaining cautious of the dangers of denigrating, romanticising or appropriating such cultures, this module asks what it would mean to take their beliefs and practices seriously, what it might mean to “follow their lead” (Willerslev). Accordingly, we will look at novels and films that invite us to apprehend the world from various animist perspectives, perspectives which are themselves often radically multi-perspectival. What might it mean, for instance, to “enter the text” of a shaman who is him or herself in the process of becoming a jaguar or a tree? Starting with examples drawn from African literature, we will also branch out to consider literature and film that draws on other Indigenous traditions.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours280.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Feedback on formative assessment; seminar participation; use of staff office hours.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
EssayOne essay of 4000 words100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

One unassessed piece of work comprising proposal for final essay and annotated bibliography, totalling approximately 1000 words and due at the start of week 9.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 15/08/2023 12:47:52


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