ENGL 391: Theorizing Gothic (2017)

Course Description: Students in this course will read/view some combination of Gothic short stories, novels, and films, but lectures and discussions will focus primarily on literary and critical theory related to defining, conceptualizing, and interrogating Gothic narratives and representations. Theoretical readings will address such topics as grotesque and leaky embodiment, gendered and/or sexualized representations of the monstrous, encounters with the unknown, paranoid interpretations, Gothic and/or perverse historicity, inhuman and unhuman processes, confrontations with undead objects, uncanny effects and acousmatic voices, trauma and psychic shock, and abject Things. Students will also analyze such gothic tropes in both literary narratives and theoretical texts.

Course Objectives: Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • discuss and describe a variety of theoretical debates in cultural and media studies
  • apply the theories (or theoretical “reading strategies”) discussed to the study of literature
  • analyze and discuss the historical, intellectual, and institutional context of major theories in cultural and media studies
  • define key concepts and terms in current and historical theory

Required Texts:

Leitch, Vincent B., general editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2nd edition, Norton, 2010.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula, edited by Glennis Byron, Broadview, 1997.

*I will post additional readings online via Blackboard throughout the semester.  

Weighting of Course Requirements:                                 

  • Student-developed QA (question/answer) assignments x 2     Oct 2, Nov 10            30%
  • Unessay or 1000-word passage analysis essay                            Oct 20                        20%    
  • 2000-word research essay                                                              Nov 27-Dec 4            40%
  • Attendance, participation, and active course contributions                                       10%

I will post detailed instructions for all assignments in Blackboard early in the semester so students can get an early start on planning topics for all assignments. Students will develop their own topics for all assignments in this course.

Weekly Schedule: please read all assigned readings by the first class of each week. I will occasionally assign supplementary readings and post them in Blackboard. As a general rule, it will be very helpful for students to take note on a weekly basis of any gothic-related material they come across (literature, television, film, graphic novels, videos, etc) because we can incorporate these findings into classroom discussions.  

Week 1 (Sept 6, 8): Course introduction. What is gothic? What is theory? What is theoretical about gothic? What is gothic about theory? Do Nerds and Geeks approach the gothic differently?

Readings: no assigned readings, but I will distribute passages from Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project in class.

Week 2 (Sept 11, 13, 15): Philosophical residues, stains, and formations. Ghostly concepts and monstrous genres.    

Readings: selections from Plato (pp. 45-83); selections from Aristotle’s Poetics (pp. 88-115).

Week 3 (Sept 18, 20, 22): Spectres and hauntings in materialist critique.

Readings: Hegel, “The Master-Slave Dialectic” (pp. 541-47); selections from Marx and Engels (pp. 651-76); Stoker’s Dracula.

Week 4 (Sept 25, 27, 29): The Freudian unconscious and the gothic uncanny

Readings: selections from Freud (pp. 814-45); Dracula continued.

Assignment: QA assignment #1 will take place in-class on Wed and Fri this week.

Week 5 (Oct 2, 4, 6): Linguistic turns (of the screw)

Readings: selections from de Saussure (pp. 850-66); Barthes, “The Death of the Author” (pp. 1322-26); Dracula continued.

Assignment: final draft of QA assignment #1 due as Blackboard submission by 11:59 pm on Monday. 

Week 6 (Oct 11, 13): Misrecognition, the symbolic Other, and the monstrous Real.

No class on Mon (Thanksgiving).

Readings: selections from Lacan (pp. 1163-89); Dracula continued.

Week 7 (Oct 16, 18, 20): Desire, fantasy, and the Thing.

Readings: selections from Lacan continued; Zizek, “Courtly Love, or Woman as Thing” (pp. 2407-27); Dracula continued.

Assignment: Unessay or passage analysis essay due on Friday. Submit unessays in class or during an agreed-upon time with the instructor; submit passage analysis essays as Blackboard submission by 11:59 pm.

Week 8 (Oct 23, 25, 27): Traces, supplements, and ghostly metaphysics.

Readings: Derrida, selections from Of Grammatology (pp. 1688-97) and Specters of Marx (pp. 1734-44); Dracula continued.

Week 9 (Oct 30, Nov 1, 3): Discursive bodies and perverse genealogies.

Readings: Foucault, selections from Discipline and Punish (pp. 1490-1502) and The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 (pp. 1502-21); Dracula continued.

Assignment: QA assignment #2 will take place in class on Wed and Fri this week.

Week 10 (Nov 6, 8, 10): Abjection and women’s writing.

Readings: Kristeva, selections from Revolution in Poetic Language (pp. 2071-81) and from The Powers of Horror (to be distributed); Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (pp. 1942-59); Dracula continued.

Assignment: final draft of QA assignment #2 due as Blackboard submission by 11:59 pm on Friday.

Week 11 (Nov 17): Race, ethnicity, and the Other in a gothic context.

No classes on Mon/Wed (Remembrance Day and Reading Break).

Readings: Fanon, selections from The Wretched of the Earth (pp. 1440-46); Said, selections from Orientalism (pp. 1866-88); hooks, “Postmodern Blackness” (pp. 2509-16); Dracula continued.

Week 12 (Nov 20, 22, 24): Post-human bodies and cyborg assemblages.

Readings: Hayles, selections from How We Became Posthuman (pp. 2165-87); Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (pp. 2190-220); Dracula continued.

Week 13 (Nov 27, 29, Dec 1): Gothic media.

Readings: Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility” (pp. 1051-71); Baudrillard, from “The Precession of Simulacra” (pp. 1556-66); Dracula continued.

Week 14 (Dec 4): Gothic emancipations and pleasures.

Readings: everything and nothing.

Assignment: last day to submit research essay as a Blackboard submission by 11:59 pm. Last day to withdraw from regular session classes without academic penalty.   

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