Weird Books: Syllabus and Schedule of Work

In recent years, probably under the varied pressures of climate change, Internet-driven genre proliferation, Internet-driven skepticism, the increasing recognition of all kinds of Otherness, the increasing recognition of animals as fellow species, the Weird has become a rich subject of interest for writers, academics, and readers of all types. As a genre, the Weird is adjacent to science fiction, horror, and the gothic, and yet has proved much more difficult to define than these neighbors (who have their own category problems). Throughout this course, we’re going to work on defining, mapping, documenting, and otherwise tracking the Weird through a variety of texts, theories, and contexts. In the process, we hope to gain some understanding of:

  • How the Weird works as a genre (and how genre works as a category of analysis).
  • How the Weird is produced in fiction.
  • What implications the Weird offers for discussions of ability, racial difference, gender, sexuality, and other identity issues.
  • What implications the Weird has for discussions of climate change, pollution, and other ecological issues, including how humans perceive these issues.
  • What implications the Weird has for discussions of animals’ consciousness, humans’ treatment of animals, and the relationship between humans and animals as fellow creatures.
  • Probably lots of other stuff.
  • Tentacles.

After completing this course, students will

  • Be able to demonstrate, through oral or written responses, their understanding of weird literature as a genre.
  • Have further developed their writing by producing an informal Uncommonplace Book, one short and one substantial literary-critical essay on the topic of the Weird, producing original research and engaging with other scholarship on the topic.
  • Have completed, in collaboration with other students, a visual project that helps other readers map, track, or otherwise define the weird.

Informal goals for course:

  • Work on your writing.
  • Do some critical thinking.
  • Make something useful.
  • Read some literature and criticism.

Schedule of Work

Required Texts

Available at bookstore:

  • H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories 
  • Sylvia Plath, Ariel
  • Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation
  • Octavia Butler, Dawn
  • Samuel Delany, The Einstein Intersection
  • Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen: Stories

Other assignments are available as PDFs or online content and are linked in the Schedule of Work below.

Note on texts and discussion: some of the texts under study contain racist and misogynist tropes, violence, sexual material, including, though limited, sexually violence. This course will also involve open discussions of homosexuality, ecology, racism, and other politically vibrant topics.

Note on Class Participation and Texts:

On the day material is assigned, you are responsible for bringing material to class in a usable form. Print is ideal, because you can write on the material, flip through it, point out passages to other students, and otherwise refer to it. It’s also acceptable to have material available on tablet or laptop. But please don’t rely on a smartphone to read this material. As an instructor, I find it distracting when students are looking at their phones, and I can’t tell if you’re looking at the material, texting, or looking at social media.

Assignments

  • Uncommonplace Book: 20%
  • Short paper: Defining the Weird 15%
  • Weird Group Project 15%
  • Class participation, weird or otherwise 10%
  • Nonweird Reading Assessments 20%
  • Final Paper 20%

Uncommonplace Book

In the books we’ll read, the weird often becomes part of everyday life, and characters often turn to writing to document the weird: Lovecraft’s stories are filled with scientists and historians writing things down; in Dawn, Lilith wishes she had a journal; Annihilation is written as a field journal that documents Area X’s weirdness.

Throughout the semester, in response to your reading, you will mimic these writing practices by keeping an “uncommonplace book,” a variation on a commonplace book. Commonplace books are a collection of quotations, images, observations, and other information on a common theme. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonplace_book for more about commonplace books and https://www.pinterest.com/inspire_lab/commonplace-books/  for examples of commonplace books old and new.

For this assignment, you will need a notebook of your choosing, to be purchased by the second week of class.

Each week, you need to fill at least two small (roughly 6 x 8) or one large  (roughly 8 x 11) pages with the following:

  • One substantial quotation copied from the week’s reading.
  • One substantial paragraph of writing in response to the week’s reading.
  • An example of a weird observation “in the field” from your daily life.
  • Images, charts, other thoughts, other quotations–the rest is up to you.

You should date and title your entries. I will check your uncommonplace books 1) at random times throughout the semester 2) at the end of the semester.

In order to receive a C, you’ll need to ensure that there is one substantial entry (as defined above) for every week of the semester, beginning with week 2 and ending with week 13. From there, your grade can only go up; commonplace books that receive a grade of A are creative works of art and thinking that show concerted and consistent ongoing effort.

Defining the Weird

This paper asks you to use either the term “defamiliarization” or “abjection” to make an argument about one of Lovecraft’s stories. Link to prompt.

Weird Group Project

In groups, you will complete a project that visually maps the Weird as a genre and present this map to the class. You can determine this mapping along any lines: content, view of the inhuman or other critical concept, literary tactics, and so on.

These are due on the last two days of class.

I will assign you to groups during the third week of class. Once groups are formed, I will ask for regular updates on the project throughout the semester.

I’m aware that group work poses challenges. But the truth is, much workplace deliverables are produced collaboratively, and I think it’s good to get you used to producing collaborative work. You need to figure out how to contribute, communicate, and otherwise work as a group. Part of your grade will come from your group members.

Reading Assessment

Six times throughout the semester, you will complete a reading assessment consisting of the following:

  1. 4-5 informational questions (designed to demonstrate that you have completed the day’s reading)
  2. A short response to a passage from the day’s reading (designed to demonstrate that you are engaged with the course and work themes).

These will not be announced in advance, and cannot be made up if you miss them. However, in calculating your grade, I will drop the lowest score.

Schedule of Work

Introducing and Defining the Weird

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Introductions/Syllabus

Thursday, January 11, 2018

H.P. Lovecraft,  The Shadow Over Innsmouth, “The Outsider”

Charles Baxter, “The Hideous Unknown of H.P. Lovecraft” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/12/18/hideous-unknown-hp-lovecraft/

Responses to Baxter, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/02/19/judgment-lovecraft/

Philip Eil, “The Unlikely Reanimation of H.P. Lovecraft” https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/08/hp-lovecraft-125/401471/

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

H.P. Lovecraft, “The Colour Out of Space”

Viktor Shklovsky, Art as Device (start reading at 157)

Prework, paper #1
Pick one of the ideas on page 171 of Shklovsky’s “Art as Device”, such as “The goal of parallelism — the goal of all imagery — is transferring an object from its usual sphere of experience to a new one, a kind of semantic change.”

Copy down all or part of the passage containing this idea into your Uncommonplace Book. Look up any unfamilar terms on Google or elsewhere. Explain the idea in your own words. Find one example from today’s reading (“The Colour Out of Space”) that presents an example of the idea (such as strange colored, fast-growing cabbages). Copy that passage down. Write 1-2 sentences that connect Shklovsky’s ideas to the passage.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

H.P. Lovecraft,”The Call of Cthulhu,”  “Herbert West–Reanimator”

Julia Kristeva, “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection”

This link may be helpful in understanding Kristeva. The Wikipedia article on abjection, though uneven, also has some useful explanations, as well as ways in which abjection has been applied to ideas about disability, race, and animals.

Prework, paper #1

Find one example of what Kristeva calls “abjection.” Copy down all or part of the passage containing this example into your Uncommonplace Book. Look up one reference in the passage on Google. Below the passage, explain the reference. In your own words, explain how the example works. Find one example from the reading that works in similar ways. Copy that passage down.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

H.P. Lovecraft, “The Haunter of the Dark”

Hard copy, due at the beginning of class: Short paper, “Defining the Weird”

Thursday, January 25, 2018

H.P. Lovecraft, “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn”

Dana Luciano and Mel Y. Chin, “Has the Queer Ever Been Human?”

Work in uncommonplace book: Choose one paragraph from the introduction. Copy it into your Uncommonplace Book. Look up any unfamiliar terms on Google. List these definitions below the paragraph. Look up any names listed in the paragraph on Google. Copy one related sentence from this paragraph. Write your own paragraph that summarizes this paragraph in your own words. Write 1-2 sentences that connects this work to something we have read.

Tuesday, January 30

Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection, 1-50

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection, 50-75

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection, 75-end

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection, continued

Kelly Link, “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Kelly Link, “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”

Sylvia Plath, “Tulips” “Poppies in October” “Berck-Plage” “Edge”

Sylvia Plath, “Daddy” “Years”

Kelly Link, “The Specialist’s Hat”

Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazurus” “Morning Song” “Child”

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Kelly Link, “Flying Lessons” “Louise’s Ghost”

Sylvia Plath, “Ariel” “The Couriers” “Sheep in Fog”

Kelly Link, “Travels with the Snow Queen”

Sylvia Plath, “Medusa” “Gulliver” “The Moon and the Yew Tree” “The Hanging Man”

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Classes held online–instructor conducting research at Fales Library, New York University

Kelly Link, “Vanishing Act”

Sylvia Plath, “Fever 103” “Cut”

Kelly Link, “The Girl Detective”

Sylvia Plath, “Words” “Mary’s Song”

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Classes held online–instructor conducting research at Fales Library, New York University

Kelly Link, “Survivor’s Ball, or the Donner Party”

Sylvia Plath, “Totem” “Getting There”

Kelly Link, “Shoe and Marriage”

Sylvia Plath, “The Applicant” “Letter in November”

Kelly Link, “Most of My Friends Are Two Thirds Water”

Sylvia Plath, “Balloons” “The Munich Mannequins”

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Spring Break

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Spring Break

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Kelly Link, “The Specialist’s Hat”

Sylvia Plath, “Balloons” “The Munich Mannequins”

Thursday, March 8, 2018

James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon) “The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats”

Sylvia Plath, “The Bee Meeting” “The Arrival of the Bee Box” “The Swarm” “Wintering” “Stings”

Optional: http://weirdfictionreview.com/2016/02/101-weird-writers-39-james-tiptree-jr/

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Octavia Butler, Dawn 1-68

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Octavia Butler, Dawn 69-111

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Octavia Butler, Dawn 112-196

Rachel Greenwald-Smith,  “Ecology Beyond Ecology: Life After the Accident in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy”

(Note: you may need to log on to the library in order to access this article. I am asking you to get it from the library website because it’s important that the library see students using these resources.)

Federmeyer Article on Dawn and Slavery

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Octavia Butler, Dawn 199-end

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation 01, 02

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Class canceled–instructor at American Comparative Literature Association Conference.

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation 03
David Tompkins, Ecology: On The Southern Reach Trilogy

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation 04 

Due: Proposal and annotated bibliography for final paper.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation05-end

https://electricliterature.com/the-slow-apocalypse-and-fiction-8ecd53136e23

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

China Mieville, “Covehithe”

Look up on Google: the oil rig disasters mentioned in the story.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Angela Carter, “The Snow Pavilion” (PDF)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Presentations: Categorizing the Weird

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Presentations: Categorizing the Weird