The Unspeakable:
Representing Horror and the Horror of Representation

Course Description | Course Calendar

Texts and Bulkpack | Course Requirements

Graded Work | Attendance Policy | Class Participation

The Portfolio

Office Hours and Other Information

Schedule of Film Showings and Guide to ResNet

The Unspeakable:
Representing Horror and the Horror of Representation


In this course we will spend approximately one-quarter of our time reading each other's writing in a workshop format, and the rest of our time in discussion. Even when we are discussing issues associated with the readings for the course, we will be doing so with an eye toward writing. Our readings will be horror stories, horror films, and other essays, stories and films that are associated with horror or confront the same issues or questions. This means that, in addition to horror, we will be talking about gender, pornography, representation, romance, violence, sadomasochism, and fairy tales. In the first half of this course we will see a number of horror films and read the novels and stories that inspired them in order to establish just what horror is and how it works. We will focus particularly on what happens when horror moves from the printed word (novels and stories) to the visual image and the moving picture. We will also read some essays on horror as well. The primary focus of the course, however, will be on your writing, and you will be doing some form of writing to prepare for approximately every other class period. You also will write a number of more formal essays, for which you will receive ample feedback, and which you can revise to turn in at the end of the semester in your portfolio. Your course grade will be determined by your in-class work (40%) and by the portfolio of essays (60%) that you turn in at the end of the semester.



Nosferatu, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Frankenstein, Blade Runner, Bride of Frankenstein, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Princess Bride, The Piano, Pulp Fiction.


Sept 5: First Day of Class. Diagnostic. Assignment: Aside from the reading and the paragraph, go immediately and get an e-mail account, and send me a message confirming that you are in the class.

Unit One: Two Representations of Horror.

Sept 10: Reading: Read all of Carmilla; it is a short story in Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly. Writing Assignment: Paragraph due, Group #1.

Film: Nosferatu (1922).

Sept 12: Discuss Carmilla and Nosferatu. Writing Assignment: Paragraph due, Group #2.

Film: Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Sept 17: Finish Nosferatu and begin discussing Bram Stoker's Dracula. Writing Assignment: In class, we will be generating essay ideas for the first paper. For this writing assignment, I would like you read Nancy Sommers' "I Stand Here Writing". I then would like you to think of an essay that you could write that used vampires (and our texts thus far) as its basis. What you should NOT do is conceive of an essay that is merely a close analysis of a text or film. Rather, I am interested in what kinds of essays that you could write that used vampires as materials for talking about other things. There used to be an advertising campaign from FTD florists that said "Say it with Flowers"--what interesting ideas could you explore with vampires and with our particular texts?

Sept 18: Listserv response #1 (see assignment below) due by 4 p.m. For Thursday's class, make sure that you read through the responses of your classmates before coming to class, and that you bring at least a snippet of a response you found particularly interesting or thought-provoking.

Sept 19: Reading: John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Chapter 7. Listserv Assignment: John Berger argues in this chapter of Ways of Seeing that advertisements most often sell fantasy--that by showing us a vision of what we could be, they take away "our love of ourselves as we are, and offer it back to us for the price of the product." In your listserv response, I'd like you to consider the following question: Given that horror usually shows us a fantasy--in this case a horribly negative one--does it work in any ways similar to advertising? Does horror reassure us, or does it take away our peace of mind? Do any of Berger's ideas work to explain how horror works upon us? For class discussion: Let's discuss these ideas in relation to Bram Stoker's Dracula, and let's pay particular attention to the film's inclusion of the romance story between Mina and Dracula (which isn't in the book), and its obsession with blood.

Sept 22:Whoever is up for the workshops of September 24 should e-mail to all of us a copy of the essay they want feedback on by 5 p.m.

Sept 24: Reading: Read the essay that one of your classmates will provide you by September 22 on e-mail. For Class, we will conclude our discussion of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and then move into our first writing workshop after about 20-25 minutes. Large Group Workshop: ___________ . Respondent: __________.

Sept 24:Those up for September 26 should e-mail to all of us a copy of the essay they want feedback on by 5 p.m.

Sept 26: Large Group Workshop: ___________ and ____________ . Respondents: __________ and _____________.

Sept 27:Essay #1 due in my mailbox by 4 pm. The students who were workshopped can turn in the essay on Monday, September 30.

Film: Frankenstein (1931)

Oct 1: Reading: Frankenstein, volume one; The Motion Picture Production Code (1930). We will be discussing it in relation to the film version--to prepare for this discussion, please do the following writing analytical exercise: 1) list what you consider to be the significant differences between the first volume of the novel and the film; 2) then, ask yourself why the screenwriter and director of the film version of Frankenstein changed what they did? Does the film argue something different from the first volume of the novel? Are its concerns and issues different? How do you know? We will be using this as the foundation of our discussion.

Film: Blade Runner

Oct 3: Reading: Continue Reading Frankenstein, with an eye to having it completed by Tuesday, October 8. We will be discussing Blade Runner in relation to Mary Shelley's novel. Paragraph due Group #1.

Film: Bride of Frankenstein (1933)

Oct 8: Reading: Finish Frankenstein by today. We will be discussing Bride of Frankenstein in relation to the novel. Paragraph due Group #2.

Oct 10: Reading: John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Chapters 2, 3, 4, 6. Writing Assignment: Chapters 2, 4, and 6 are not composed of words, but rather are montages of images. Chapter 3 is about the conceptual difference between nakedness and nudity; it also is about, in a more general sense, the importance of how things are represented (and perceived), and how representations often constitute what we think of as reality. For this class, I would like you to do one of the following: 1) write 1-2 pages thinking about the difference that exists between how Frankenstein's creation thinks of himself and how others perceive him--you can use any of the films as your base text, or Shelley's novel; 2) write 1-2 pages thinking addressing either Chapter 2, 4, or 6 of Ways of Seeing in which you ask yourself what the chapter argues, and whether visual represenations (images) make arguments differently than words do. How might you begin to use illustrations in your essays (or compose essays made up of images?)


Film: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)--bring your lyrics (in bulkpack) with you.

Oct 17: Reading: Please read the lyrics to Rocky Horror (in bulkpack). Discussion: We will be discussing Rocky Horror today.

Oct 20: Those people up for workshops for October 22 should e-mail your paper to us by 4 p.m.

Oct 22: Large Group Workshop: ___________ and ____________ . Respondents: __________ and _____________.

Oct 22: Those people up for workshops for October 24 should e-mail your paper to us by 4 p.m.

Oct 24: Large Group Workshop: ___________ and ____________ . Respondents: __________ and _____________.

Oct 25: Essay #2 due in my mailbox by 4 pm.

Unit Two: Violence, Romance, and Other Horrors of Representation

Film: The Princess Bride (1987)

Oct 28: Listserv Assignment #2 (assignment below) is due by 5 pm. For October 29's class, make sure that you read through the responses of your classmates before coming to class, and that you bring at least a snippet of a response you found particularly interesting or thought-provoking.

Oct 29: Reading: Charles Perrault, Bluebeard. Read also Katia Canton, "The Fairy Tales" (in bulkpack) We will be dicussing fairy tales in relation to The Princess Bride, so you may wish to reread some of your favorites (many are on-line). Listserv Assignment #2: for this class, please prepare the following short writing assignment. You may either write 1-2 pages on: 1) the difference between why fairy tales fascinate children and why parents read them to their children--how do narratives, however innocent, nevertheless contain agendas and arguments?; or 2) why is The Princess Bride such a popular film? (please do not simply say "It's entertaining" or "It has wide appeal"; as many films do, what is it about this film that makes it especially appealing to adults? What is it about this film that makes us so unwilling to look further in to how it works and what it plays on in us?)

Oct 31: Reading: Angela Carter, "The Bloody Chamber." If you like this story, take a look at several others in the book, particularly "The Company of Wolves" and "The Tiger's Bride." We will be discussing "The Bloody Chamber" in order to continue our discussion from October 29 on The Princess Bride. Paragraph Due Group #2.

Film: The Piano (1993)

Nov 5: Reading: Discussion: We will be discussing The Piano in relation to Bluebeard and "The Bloody Chamber". Paragraph Due Group #1.

November 5: Those people up for workshops for November 7 should e-mail your paper to us by 4 p.m.

Nov 7: Large Group Workshop: ___________ and ____________ . Respondents: __________ and _____________.

November 8: Essay #3 due.

Film: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Nov 12: Reading: Edmund Burke, Selections from A Philosophical Inquiry into our Notions of the Sublime and Beautiful (bulkpack); read also The Motion Picture Production Code (1968). We will be discussing these essays in relation to Pulp Fiction.

Nov 14: Reading: Pat Califia, "Introduction" to (1988), and excerpts from the recent V-chip testimony in Congress. We will be discussing these in relation to Pulp Fiction.

November 17: Those people up for workshops for November 19 should e-mail your paper to us by 4 p.m.

Nov 19: Large Group Workshop: ___________ and ____________ . Respondents: __________ and _____________.

November 19: Those people up for workshops for November 21 should e-mail your paper to us by 4 p.m.

Nov 21: Large Group Workshop: ___________ and ____________ . Respondents: __________ and _____________.

November 24: Those people up for workshops for November 26 should e-mail your paper to us by 4 p.m.

Nov 26:Large Group Workshop: ___________ and ____________ . Respondents: __________ and _____________.

Wednesday, November 27: Essay #4 due in my mailbox by 4 pm.

Nov 28: Thanksgiving Holiday. No Class.

Dec 3: Large Group Workshop: ___________ and ____________ . Respondents: __________ and _____________.

Dec 5: If necessary, Large Group Workshop: ______________ with Respondent ___________. Final Business for Last Day of Class. Evaluations.

Portfolios Due December 9th in my mailbox by 4 p.m.

Questions about Groundrules and Requirements

What kind of work will we be doing?

Unlike other classes you take at Penn, this course does not aim to teach you a particular body of knowledge so much as particular skills in writing, thinking, and reading that will help you to perform better in most classes that require essays or other kinds of written work. Horror is the content of this course, but it will only serve as the raw material for essays that you write and that you have read by me and by your classmates. Therefore, you should expect to do some kind of writing at least every other class meeting.

As we are all writers who wish to produce work that either ourselves or other people value, we're going to ask some extremely fundamental questions in this course about writing and about essays. What should essays "do"? What kinds of thinking find their best expression in essay form? What are essays better at "doing" than other kinds of communication? If my essay can be reduced to two sentences with no real loss of information or complexity, does this mean that I should not write an essay about it?

Similarly, we will be "reading" essays, as well as many other kinds of texts: films, stories, novels, manifestos, codes, etc. Our primary goals in engaging with these materials, however, will not be to summarize or even necessarily explain these texts--at least not as ends in themselves. Rather, we will concentrate on these materials in two ways.

Therefore, I will NOT be asking you, for the most part, to write essays about the texts that we read. I will expect you to use class materials and analyze parts of them--as well as materials from your own outside reading--for your essays, but these will be the means to ends that you will choose. I think that you will still have more than considerable room to write essays that you want to write: that are rigorous and creative, that address ideas that arise in class discussion, and that make the business of the essay to think through these ideas further. Indeed, I hope to see essays that take up class issues and either connect them to other sets of ideas, or else push the issues as far as they can possibly go. What I wish to avoid are essays that slavishly serve the reading--that are mere summaries, descriptions, mere explications, or comparisons of our texts that go no further than simply making a comparison. In fact, I have chosen these specific readings, and this particular course theme, because I think that they will help you to conceptualize the things that interest you in new ways.

So, expect the ideas to fly in this course, and expect a good number of those ideas to be coming from yourself. Even if we do not always talk about the questions above (and others) directly when we talk about a specific text, expect them to be roving the periphery. Coming up with thoughtful, playful, well-articulated views on these larger questions will constitute one of the semester-long goals of the class, and we'll have plenty to talk about.

40% of my final grade will be determined by in-class work.
How will that work?

Besides writing essays, we'll also be doing many other kinds of writing that in fact are geared toward helping you write better essays. When you watch a film or read a text, you will writing notes either on a pad or in the margins of the text. Often, you'll be asked to do more formal writing before class as a way of jump-starting class discussion and raising our level of thinking. In class, you'll be expected to voice what you think, and often we'll ask you why you think it. On the class's computer mailing list (called a "listserv"), you'll be asked to continue the discussion by writing and responding to other class members' ideas, observations, paper ideas, and even rough drafts. My belief is that you can't say something well in an essay if you haven't tried to say it in many ways previously, and so the in-class work is extremely important and counts considerably to my final assessment of your performance.

The other 60% of my grade will come from a portfolio.
What is that and what does that mean?

During the semester, I will ask you four times to hand in formal essays of at least three pages (at least 750 words). I will read them, respond to them, and make recommendations for how they can get better. Beginning with the 2nd essay, I will even give you an honest assessment of what kind of grade I would give your essay were you to submit it, as is, in your end-of-semester portfolio. These grades, however, are for your information only. They do NOT count toward your final grade. My role as your professor is to help you i mprove your writing, and so any essay grades you receive during the semester are designed to let you know where you are. IF YOU DO NOT WANT to know what grade something would receive, let me know and I simply won't tell you. Given that I want you to take chances, to experiment with new forms and new ideas, and to break bad but safe habits, I will not place a final grade on your formal essays until you resubmit them at the end of the semester in your portfolio. This will give you ample opportunity to follow your interests, to turn down pathways only to discover that they are dead ends, and, frankly, to fail in a safe space without damaging consequences. I rarely ever have written a full essay that was really good the first time around, and therefore I do not think it is productive to grade you on the essays that you hand in during the semester.

My policy is only to read a given essay of yours once before the portfolio. If you feel that you have written a completely different essay in your second version, hand it in as a different essay on one of the four due dates during the semester.

At the end of the semester, you'll hand in a portfolio of your three best essays (and the original drafts), each of which you will have rewritten (or at least substantially revised) from the previous draft I have seen. This portfolio should represent your best work--the best that you can do at this time--and should be as immaculate and finished as the work that you sent with your college applications. You should consider your portfolio the "finished product" of your work during the semester. Like any job application, it will have to stand on its own and represent you.

At that point only will I evaluate your portfolio. Your grade for a given paper cannot possibly be lower than the grade it received for the semester; it can only be the same or higher. Each essay in the portfolio will be worth 20% of your grade.

What about Class Participation?

Class participation is absolutely required. If you do not participate in our discussions, I will lower your final grade considerably--at least 1/3 of a grade (B- to C+, etc). If you are one of the people who are a backbone of the class--who perform at an outstanding level, and without whom the class would not have functioned nearly as well--I reserve the right to raise your grade accordingly (usually one notch, from C+ to B-, etc.).

What is the Attendance Policy?

As this is a discussion-based course and a writing workshop, attendance is required. There are no "excused" absences. Because I know that emergencies and accidents do occur during the semester, I allow you two absences. I don't want to know why you miss class, and I don't want you to tell me why. These absences are your business. Missing more than two classes is equally your business, but it will also affect your grade. 3-4 absences will lower your grade by 1/3, 5-6 by 2/3, etc. More than 12 absences will constitute failing the course.

If you have extreme emergencies--such as a death in your immediate family, or an extended illness requiring hospitalization or more than 10 days of bedrest--you must give me a letter from your physician or, in the case of family emergencies, from the College Advisor Diane Frey.