Vampires, Monsters, Madness: Fables of Modernity

Course Number: ENGL 65 FM
Prerequisites: Check on GOLD
Advisory Enrollment Information: Open to non-majors. Course may be repeated twice providing the letter designations are different.
General Education Areas Fulfilled: Check on GOLD
Catalog Course Entry: ENGL 65AA-ZZ
Quarter: Spring 2020
Instructor: Wicke, Jennifer
Day(s): MW
Time: 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
Location: GIRV 1004
Description:

This lecture course (with individual discussion sections) focuses on four books that continue to vibrate in the cultural imagination today, because in addition to being fascinating literary works, they are touchstone books that explore or even create social narratives of what modernity means, and how its vast changes alter the ways people live their lives—politically, philosophically, scientifically, psychologically in terms of social identity and self-image, and ethically, religiously, and spiritually too. From the late eighteenth century to the twentieth century, and now in the twenty-first underway, “modernity” exploded on the world stage, sometimes quite literally. Our focus on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness takes these works about literal and metaphorical monsters and madness as “fables”: that is, cultural stories that have stayed culturally current, and continue to guide contemporary narratives in art, culture, politics, and technology/media alike. Each approximately two-week session on a book ends with a really contemporary version of the fable--a film, internet versions, or something that responds to the vampires, monsters and madness that haunt us still, in an interdisciplinary approach that looks at these fables as they act on the world, not as static literary artifacts. For example, there’s a hilarious modern vampire TV series “What We Do in the Shadows,” which includes an “emotional vampire,” and the British LGBTQ author Jeannette Winterson has just written a modern version of Frankenstein called Frankisstein. The course is also taught in order to reward students’ interest and their time; quizzes are for extra credit only, with points to be used on the exams, and there’s a wide range of other incentives in lecture and in section, including the chance to choose your own focus in a final short essay. We’re all, in a way, Frankenstein’s monster, and we have a “vampiric” life as some version of Count Dracula or the brave Mina Harker who vanquishes him through empathy and strategic skill; we’re all to some degree trapped by our own images just like Dorian Gray was the first to realize; every one of us has been involved in the madness of global domination and conquest, like Conrad’s main tale teller Marlow, as an unwilling participant or as one who has been subjugated. Modernity’s fables hold up a mirror to us, while also revealing in the glass those who have gone unseen and unheard.