English 40H - Winter, 2018

Introductory Topics in Literature

    Topic: RESTRICTED TO UNIVERSITY HONORS PROGRAM STUDENTS ONLY

Class Information

Instructor: Dobbins, Gregory
Time: TR 3:10-4:30
Location: 151 Olson

Description

    The Weird, the Eerie, the Supernatural, and the 'Natural'


    The focus of this course will be on 'Weird' and ‘Eerie’ Literature, a strain of Horror/Occult/Esoteric/Science Fiction which may concern the supernatural and/or the extraterrestrial, but is distinct from more specific sub-genres usually identified with those terms. It begins sometime in the mid-19th century and continues up to the present day, and encompasses fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and film among other mediums.

    Just as the acceleration of modernization in the mid-19th century placed an emphasis on scientific certainty and rationality, a wide disparate variety of writers and artists formulated an alternative trajectory that appears to question such exactitude. "Weird Fiction", a term invented by H.P. Lovecraft to describe his own writing and influences, is defined by its fundamental inexplicability. While there may be a place for ghosts, demons, witches, werewolves, vampires, aliens, or zombies in Weird Fiction (indeed, some of these entities will be making cameo appearances in the course of our reading), they are for the most part known and knowable. What makes Weird Fiction "weird" is the sense that there never really is an adequate explanation for the supernatural events that take place in these narratives.

    “Eerie Fiction” is related to Weird Fiction, but departs from a slightly different premise. Unlike in Weird Fiction, in which narratives occur because something is present which should NOT be there according to logic and a rational understanding of “reality” (i.e., “this and that don’t belong together in a logical sense”), Eerie Fiction is characterized by something fundamentally logically wrong with that which should make sense, or even the complete absence of that which makes something make sense (i.e. “this situation cannot be, because something is not functioning properly or is missing altogether”).

    While the constitutive gap between that which is and that which should not be is the source of both the pleasure and terror found in Weird and Eerie Fiction (and for the most part, both types of fiction are found as often in popular culture as they are in the traditional canon), it also raises a crucial question: is that which is understood in rational and realistic terms to be "natural" really that-- or is it actually something else entirely? The texts for this class will be listed below once they have been ordered, but we will be reading various works by writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, W.B. Yeats, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, M.R. James, Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Daphne DuMaurier, and Thomas Ligotti.

Grading

    Two essays, various short writing assignments exploring the topics of the Weird and the Eerie, active class participation, and a final exam.

Texts

    The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
    The White People and Other Stories, Arthur Machen
    The Call of Cthulu, H.P. Lovecraft
    At the Mountains of Madness, H.P. Lovecraft
    The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
    Don't Look Now, Daphne Du Maurier
    Songs of a Dead Dreamer/Grimscribe, Thomas Ligotti