The Uncanny in Literature and Film: Haunted Places
Ghosts, spirits, the undead, traumas, memories that refuse to pass; all these manifestations evoke in us the complex concept of the uncanny. In literature and film, encounters with uncanny phenomena disorient us from comforting assumptions about the safety and integrity of “home,” whether that be a particular house, a particular building, or the reliability of the ground and material world itself. The paradoxical appeal of the uncanny is undeniable; at a secure distance, experience of the uncanny induces a kind of pleasure, a spine-chilling tour through our own deep and discomforting fears, allowing us to experience and pass them by. Beginning with the haunted houses of Poltergeist, The Conjuring I and II, The Haunting, and The Babadook, we will go on to explore broader literary and cinematic spaces that have become saturated with the presence of threat and loss, place shaken by war and genocide, violent memory forcing its way into the present--places where lingering spirits dwell among us. The dead might be actively summoned, as in the case of the Ghost Dance movement of the late 1800’s. How can we interpret the ways in which such tales and histories are (un)resolved, in terms of family, gender, ethnicity, culture, such as in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved? Through our study of the concept and impact of the uncanny, we will come to better understand the architecture not only of the story and film itself, but of the way we go on living in our own lives in the aftermath of tragedy and uncertainty. The class will visit Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia among other locations and confront our own weird fascinations and fears amid structures that held lives long past. Further materials to be consider will include episodes of American Horror Story, the films Goodnight, Mommy, Elephant, Night and Fog, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the BBC series In the Flesh, public memorial structures and artworks such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the AIDS quilt, as well as the cinematic projections that give presence to the dead among the living.