Haunting the Machine: Time, Empire, Imprisonment
“Haunting is one way in which abusive systems of power make themselves known and their impacts felt in everyday life, especially when they are supposedly over and done with (slavery, for instance) or when their oppressive nature is denied (as in free labor or national security).” (xvi) Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters (1997)
“Probably someone is prey in all of our encounters. / You won’t admit it. The names alive are like the names/ In graves.” Terrance Hayes, “probably twilight makes blackness dangerous” (2017)
“If all the dead exist in the underworld, does the underworld occur outside of time, [...] can you state for the record the moan you heard the ghosts emit across the nation-state” Ken Chen, “Locate” (2019)
Hauntings and ghosts - present absences and absent presences – have preoccupied the human imaginary, across cultures and religions, for centuries. Most recently, in the literature of colonialism, imperialism, migration, incarceration, and war, ghosts have often been summoned as reminders of pasts not yet past, violent histories refusing to be forgotten, and ways of being resistant to our modern ways. In our present, which is necessarily haunted by histories of colonialism, indigenous dispossession, slavery, and imperialism, a ghost can be a metaphor: that which haunts our present, which we thought was past but isn’t, which demands our attention. It can also be an insight: time is not always neatly divisible into past, present, and future; we do not all inhabit the same moment in time. Finally, it can be a stubborn absence: someone who has left us or will not leave us but with whom we may yet wish to remain.
In this class, we will engage with hauntings (as metaphors, as figures not-present, and as a process) across contemporary literary texts, poems, film, and other media in order to ask not “what is a ghost?” or “are ghosts real?” but rather questions like:
- What does a haunting do to time and history in texts, and how does it change our understanding of these concepts?
- How do writers (or composers, more broadly) bring ghosts into their works in order to make particular claims about the past, present, and future of colonialism?
- Which spaces are haunted? How does a haunting re-define a place? What may we learn from a haunting?
- What forms of haunting do modern technologies enable (“ghosting”, digital surveillance)? And conversely, how may we read ghosts as transcending the hold of modern technologies?
- Finally, what does the concept of a haunting allow us to do in our writing, how may we tell stories about hauntings in critical and accountable ways?
Most importantly, we will constantly harness our learning to the task of developing accountable and critical reading and writing skills. This is a writing class, and we will be writing a lot. Together, we will learn how to: develop focused questions about texts; locate and analyze important claims made by texts; develop critical and well-formed argument based on critical readings of texts; reach our audiences while responding to our rhetorical situation in an effective, and impactful manner; and finally, revising our writing through feedback from peers and self-reflection. In developing a strong compositional practice, we will work towards four major course outcomes:
Outcome 1: Develop the ability to recognize and compose for different audiences and contexts
Outcome 2: Incorporate multiple types of evidence in order to generate and support our compositions
Outcome 3: Produce complex, persuasive arguments that demonstrate stake and value
Outcome 4: Learn strategies that will allow us to revise and edit our compositions both effectively and efficiently
To this end, we will be working with not only literary texts but also film, visual art, music, and other pop culture artifacts. Through these texts, we will explore how composers effectively negotiate their hybrid identities and subjectivities to make persuasive, stakes-driven claims in their works. We will also, and especially, be interested in how they experiment with different genres and modalities to articulate stronger arguments.
An important note: This class will partly be co-taught in collaboration with ENGL 131 B3. We will join classes in order to have deeper inter-class conversations around accountability, learning in collaboration, and working across and through differences in order to think through the critical questions we develop as a class. As such, this process is experimental and requires full and committed participation from all students. Your final project in this class will necessarily be developed through this inter-class collaboration.
The skills that we will develop over the course of this quarter will help us create an intentional and responsible writing practice which will translate across discipline and context. This is a writing course that satisfies the university’s composition requirement (the “C” designation). All “C” courses at the UW are designed to develop your strategic organization and expression or ideas—both in your original work and in response to the works of others. To achieve this, please be prepared to read and/or write in preparation for every class meeting.