Stephanie L Costa
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
"The monster is that uncertain cultural body in which is condensed an intriguing simultaneity or doubleness." Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Monster Theory: Reading Culture (1996)
"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness . . ." W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
What defines the monstrous? Cohen regards the monster as an ambiguous figure, arising from the collapse of boundaries. His sentiments echo Du Bois’s description of the uncertain position of African Americans in post-slavery America, which suggests a correlation between race and monstrosity in the post-Civil War era. Monsters, then, are not born, but made.
This class will inquire into the cultural understandings of the monstrous in 19th and 20th century American literature. By reading a range of novels and short stories about monsters, freaks, hybrids, and other curious subjects, we will come to know what kinds of bodies count as "monstrous," and how monsters are "made" at different points in American history.
Course texts will include: selections from The Life and Times of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself (P.T. Barnum), "Blind Tom" (Rebecca Harding Davis), The Monster (Stephen Crane), "Desiree’s Baby" (Kate Chopin), Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson), "The Only a Mother" (Judith Merrill), The Girl Who Was Plugged In (James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Sheldon), Geek Love (Katherine Dunn), Half Life (Shelley Jackson), among others. In addition to these primary texts, there will also be an electronic course packet of related theory and criticism.
This course satisfies the "W" requirement, which means that students can expect to produce 10-15 pages of writing on the above texts over the course of the quarter.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading
8 1-page response papers turned in at any point in the quarter, a 1-page paper proposal, and a final paper of 10-12 pages.