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Shocking Knowledge: The Fiction of Discovery from Gothic to Science Fiction

ENGL 260.301
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

What do we know is real? When philosophers started to take this question seriously they realized quickly that the answer was – not much. If seeing is believing, they argued, then we believe we know much more than we actually do.

This course will examine two of the great genres of insight and discovery – the gothic and science fiction – deeply philosophical literary traditions that diagnose the relation between exploring the world and self-discovery. In both, plots turn on encounters with macabre, shocking and often dangerous knowledge. We will explore the rich body of novels and films in America and Britain that explore the uncanny and often terrifying possibilities of discovery as writers wrestle with the unsettling human implications of monsters and demons, aliens and androids. Along the way, we’ll explore the function of what has been termed the “paranoid style” in Gothic fiction and the “hyper-realism” of modern Sci Fi in shaping the tradition of fictional representation and modern ideas about progress, history, and our most basic assumptions about our place as individuals within an often uncaring, and always surprising world.

Our texts may include works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary Shelley, Charles Brockden Brown, “Monk” Lewis, Austen, Poe, H. G. Wells, Wilde, H. P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, George Eliot, Stanislaw Lem, Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Anne Rice, and Anthony Burgess, and films including Alien, Blade Runner, Shadow of the Vampire, Rebecca, Drag Me to Hell, Donnie Darko and District 9.

In order to theorize these works, we will draw on a range of philosophical and psychological writings, including works by Locke, Burke, Freud, Hofstadter, James, Kierkegaard, and Elaine Scarry.