Course Update — Better Late Than Never!

Hello Dear Reader,

 

I realize I am a bit tardy in the upkeep of this little blog, I thought I would have wifi in vegas, but alas, it was not so, for that reason I’ll be doing this post, updating how my class (ENGL 165 CI at UCSB) is going. I’ll follow this up right away with a post about MSA14, which I just attended in Las Vegas. 

 

So far in the course, we’ve worked our way through Bram Stoker’s Dracula, an excerpt from Microbe Hunters and some excerpts from the news surrounding the Bas-Congo virus, and the sci fi novella Who Goes There?

I keep getting pleasantly surprised by my — very awesome — class of 37 (almost full!).

First I was really surprised at how much the students all liked Dracula. There seemed to be very close to unanimous appreciation and enjoyment of the text in the context of infection. There was a tendency to focus on the role of religion, but the students really started to dig deeper and their analysis really began to shine when we started to consider Mina in relation to media and infection. It was so invigorating.

Then! I got them to admit that they enjoyed — or at least, did not hate — a group project! That was also a surprise. There seemed to be a really strong engagement when we tried to think through the language of infection/immunity//terror/security at play in Microbe Hunters and articles about the Bas-Congo virus. This may be my proudest story about this class so far (sorry this is just gushing about how awesome my students are… I’ll get to some more substantive reflections soon, I swear!). Some of my team (that is what I often like to call my class, to emphasize that we should be working together, and that I am not an unassailable authority figure, but also a student who is learning with them, even as I teach them) … but yes, some of my team pointed out that the language in both tied in to the exploitation of the global south, and the characterization of Africa and Asia as primitive places. We had a wonderful discussion about the politics of the pharmaceutical industry and the uneven treatment of the global South and global East by American media outlets. The students thought very synthetically and kept tying the readings back to Dracula and made me as proud as can be.

When we made our way to Who Goes There? last week, I was again surprised, but this time a bit less happily. I was shocked to find out that many of my students were underwhelmed by or completely disappointed in the novella (for those of you unfamiliar with it, it is a 1938 sci fi story by John W. Campbell, Jr. that is the basis for The Thing from Outer Space and the 1982 John Carpenter film, The Thing). I say I was less happy about this, but it was refreshing to hear them disagree with me about something, and get a little defensive. The claims they levelled — not that “well written,” disappointing, an interesting premise but not done that well, etc — seem largely my own fault. Firstly, I may have built the text up a bit too much — I think it is amazingly exciting, for completely biased reasons. Secondly, I accidentally furnished them with a rather shoddily composed edition of the story (with typos,  awkward font and spacing), in an attempt to save them money.

The class setup was interesting, because we watched the trailers for film adaptations and discussed them. My team had some very astute observations about what was thematically emphasized in each iteration, in relation to the story itself as well as the themes of the class — I swear these kids are a super class.

So, that catches you up to date, pretty much. The students are really exploring the politics of infection/immunity and terror/security. I hope that they see I am giving them a register to think and speak about a constellation of contemporary socio-political issues with high stakes…

Right now, as I type… and if you read this soon after it is published, as you read this, my students will be finishing up a really exciting experimental assignment. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this assignment, by the way, dear reader.

So, they are charged with the task of watching one early zombie film (they can choose between White Zombie, King of the Zombies, and I Walked With a Zombie)… alongside this, they are also reading excerpts from W.B. Seabrook’s The Magic Island and Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse. They are supposed to think of these things together, concentrating on the role of race in early zombie cinema, and thinking about how these early zombies relate to empire, contagion, gothic or global terror, immunity, or security. 

We discuss this all after I give a mini lecture on the subject this Tuesday! Eep!

Updates on this will follow in the next week or two… I may also follow up with some more pedagogical reflections on the structure of my course and its assignments.

Thanks for reading!

S

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