Monsters R Us
Course Description: “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 historicalconditions 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 which 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 a critically contextualized analyses of contemporary fiction and film. These are likely to include Octavia Butler’s Fledgling; Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love; Patty Jenkin’s (dir.), Monster and Ridley Scott’s (dir.) Bladerunner.