Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

The Uncanny in Literature and Film: Haunted Houses and Habits

ENGL 102.601
also offered as: CINE 112
Tuesdays 6:30-9:30 pm


We begin by entering the haunted house of literature and film and with Freud's essay on the "uncanny": the domestic transformed by the presence and return of something strange. The appeal of the uncanny is undeniable; we will both enjoy the weird and yet also think beyond the thrill and spookiness to grasp what is at stake in such tales--for our own experience of our own domesticity, our lived environments, and our own sense of home.Not only in dwellings designed and built, we will go on to explore literary and cinematic spaces that have become saturated with the presence of threat and loss, of repressed memory that insists on returning, forcing its way into the present--places where lingering spirits dwell among the living. Such tales reveal our anxieties about security and familiarity, and they perhaps ease these through exposure. How can we interpret the ways in which such tales are resolved, in terms of family, gender, ethnicity, culture and the lingering presence of architecture and landscape itself? Through a study of the architecture of the haunted place, 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. Works to be studied will be chosen from but not limited to Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, the Winchester House in San Jose, CA, various monuments, films such as Poltergeist (Dir, Tobe Hooper 1982), The Conjuring (Dir. James Wan 2013), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul 2010), House (Dir. Nobuhiko Ôbayashi 1977), The Spirit of the Beehive (Dir. Víctor Erice 1973), Night and Fog (Alain Resnais 1955), Hiroshima mon Amour (Dir. Alain Resnais 1959), and the television show American Horror Story. Novels, essays, nonfiction and stories may include The Turn of Screw by Henry James, Ashe of Rings by Mary Butts, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko, Ghosts by César Aira, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley, Angels in America by Tony Kushner, Haunted Houses by Lynne Tillman, Beloved by Toni Morrison, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola, and We Wish to Inform Your Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch.

fulfills requirements
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector III: Arts & Letters of the College's General Education Curriculum