Monsters 'R Us
English 302: “Monsters R Us”
The course title is intended to signal two strands of inquiry that we will pursue this quarter, each of which pays particular attention to how monsters are defined, the historical conditions in which these figurations or definitions of monstrosity emerge and their legacies. We will begin our investigation in the 19th century focusing on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Stephen Crane’s “The Monster” as symptomatic of texts that in defining the monster as unnatural and inhuman figure what counts as personhood and, by extension, citizenship, along with the rights and value that attend it. On the one hand, these texts promulgate then hegemonic understandings about race, gender, class, and sexuality that orchestrate what Michel Foucault defines as “state racism”: namely a biopolitical regime that subdivides humanity into “we, the people” whose well being the state is pledged to foster and the less than human whose lives are marketable, disposable, or menacing. On the other hand, the same texts offer a counter vision, that upends this binary and the values that it assigns. A second, late 20th century strain heralds what Donna Haraway calls “the promise of monsters”; we’ll examine what that promise might signal for better and worse in critically contextualized readings of recent texts. Among them will be Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake; plan on in class viewing and discussion of visual media (eg., film and t.v.) as well.
Requirements: active classroom participation; 5 short (1 page, single-spaced) critical responses to assigned texts; a final 7-8 page essay on monsters (double-spaced).
Objectives: The course is designed to provide students with: 1. a solid foundation in critical practices that take up the question of monstrosity and its impact on everyday life; 2. training in reading literary works historically, as rich cultural documents whose aesthetic strategies are always also political; 3. enhanced critical reading and writing skills; 4. a keener awareness of current directions in Critical Cultural Studies.