Weird Books: Syllabus and Schedule of Work

Syllabus as of 2/13/2020. Syllabus may change throughout the semester; changes will be listed here.

Change 1/23/2020: Moved due date of Defining the Weird to Monday, February 3

Change 2/13/2020: Changed reading for 2/17 to Kelly Link, “Vanishing Act.” Moved original reading from 2/17 to 2/26.

Dr. Andrew Strombeck

Course Location/Instructor information

  • MWF 2:20 pm – 1:15 pm
  • Millett 028
  • Office hours WF 10-11 and by appointment on MWF 48 hours in advance.
  • email: andrew.strombeck@wright.edu (best way to contact me; you may get replies from drewmstrombeck@gmail.com)

Summary

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

Monday, January 13

Introductions/Syllabus

Wednesday, January 15

H.P. Lovecraft, “The Outsider”

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

Slides Lovecraft Day 1 (may include material not covered in class)

Friday, January 17

H.P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Over Innsmouth

Slides Lovecraft day 2 (may include material not covered in class)

Monday, January 20

Martin Luther King Day

Wednesday, January 22

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 unfamiliar 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.

Slides Shklovsky/Colour out of Space  (may include material not covered in class)

Friday, January 24

H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

Slides The Call of Cthulhu (The Call of Cthulhu (may include material not covered in class)

Monday, January 27

H.P. Lovecraft, “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.

Slides HPL 3 Kristeva (may contain material not covered in class)

Wednesday January 29

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

Slides HPL 4 haunter of dark (may contain material not covered in class)

Friday, January 31

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.

Monday, February 3

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

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

Wednesday, February 5

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

Friday, February 7

The Einstein Intersection, continued

Monday, February 10

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

Wednesday, February 12

Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection, continued

Friday, February 14

Kelly Link, “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back”
Class Held Online: Instructions on slides linked here

Monday, February 17

Kelly Link, “Vanishing Act”
Class Held Online: Instructions on slides linked here

Wednesday, February 19

Kelly Link, “The Specialist’s Hat”

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

Friday, February 21

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

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

Monday, February 24

Kelly Link, “Travels with the Snow Queen”

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

Wednesday, February 26

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

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

Sylvia Plath, “Daddy” “Years”

Friday, February 28

Kelly Link, “The Girl Detective”

Sylvia Plath, “Words” “Mary’s Song”

Monday, March 2 through Friday, March 6

Spring Break

Monday, March 9

Kelly Link, “Shoe and Marriage”

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

Wednesday, March 11

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

Sylvia Plath, “Balloons” “The Munich Mannequins”

Friday, March 13

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/

Monday, March 16

Octavia Butler, Dawn 1-68

Wednesday, March 18

Dawn, continued

Friday, March 20

Octavia Butler, Dawn 69-111

Monday, March 23

Octavia Butler, Dawn 112-196

Wednesday, March 25

Dawn, continued

Friday, March 27

Octavia Butler, Dawn 199-225

Monday, March 30

Dawn 226-end

Wednesday, April 1

Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation 01

Friday, April 03

Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation 02

Monday, April 6

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

Wednesday, April 8

Annihilation, continued

Friday, April 10

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation 04

Due: Proposal and annotated bibliography for final paper.

Monday, April 13

Annihilation, continued

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

Wednesday, April 15

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation05-end

Friday, April 17

China Mieville, “Covehithe”

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

Monday, April 20

Angela Carter, “The Snow Pavilion” (PDF)

Wednesday, April 22

Presentations: Categorizing the Weird

Friday, April 24

Presentations: Categorizing the Weird