Grad Course – Fall ’09 – Modernism & the Uncanny

August 20, 2009

ENGL 765/865: Modernity and the Uncanny

Fall 2009

Tom Slater


Required TextsBordwell, David and Kristen Thompson.  Film Art: An Introduction.

Collins, Jo and John Jervis, eds.  Uncanny Modernity: Cultural theories, Modern Anxieties.

Dick, Philip K.  The Man in the High Castle.

Duda, Heather L.  The Monster Hunter in Modern Popular Culture.

The Stories of E. T. A Hoffmann.

King, Stephen.  Gerald’s Game.


Course Goals:  The most important concept for students to learn is that films are texts that require our attention in the same way that literary texts do.  This includes commercial Hollywood cinema, B movies, avant-garde films, and any others that we choose to consider.  The cinema and the sense of the uncanny both have roots deep in the 19th century and grew to prominence at approximately the same time, during the twentieth century.  The uncanny is closely related the concept of the unheimlich, which can be translated as both homely and unhomely.  In other words, the uncanny suggests that while our world and our lives may look and seem familiar, they don’t feel that way.  We can sense that something is wrong, and this uncertainty produces fear. 

Simultaneous with these forces was the growth of modernity.  Modern artists greatly sensed that the world could no longer be defined.  Instead, artists could only look inwards, where the same uncertainty existed.  As in surrealism, all the elements were familiar.  But we couldn’t understand their context or relationships to each other.

In this class, we will look at works of literature and film from throughout the 20th century to try to define them as sites in which the various discourses of modernity produced a sense of the uncanny.  We will ask how that sense is produced and seek answers by learning how film communicates through narrative and stylistic elements and also drawing on our knowledge of how film communicates.  With each text, we will then seek to reach conclusions about what it communicates by considering it within the contexts of its times.  All of these factors should be kept in mind in order to reach conclusions about the works we will study.


Course Assignments:  4 short essays, 10% each.  Short essays should be approximately six-pages long.  If you need more space, that’s fine, as long as the material is important to your argument.  These essays will require you to use materials from readings, films, and class discussions.  The questions will ask you to present your knowledge of material covered in class.  No research required on these.


Major research paper, 60%.  The focus of the major research paper should not be on a film or literary work already scheduled for in-class study.  But you can use our text-book to help you select a film, filmmaker, author, literary work, or theme.  Your essay should present a significant argument, show your own study of the work or works you’ve chosen to focus on, show your knowledge of how text(s), writer(s), or filmmaker(s) use narrative and stylistic elements to communicate about the issue you focus on, and use at least three sources other than the film or our textbooks.  They should be at least 10-pages long.  But make sure you are working to present a strong argument and show a thorough knowledge of your material rather than making an effort to stay to a ten-page limit.


With the short and major essays, I will be happy to read rough drafts of your work at any point.  These do not need to be complete.  But the more material you provide, the more feedback I can give. You might note that I would like to have a research paper topic from you by Oct. 19.  But I will be happy to get them any time before then.  My one restriction is that I will not allow duplications.  So, when you’ve decided on something, you may wish to tell me so you will be certain to be able to work on your first choice of topics. Rough drafts for your research papers will be due by Thanksgiving break.  Final drafts will be due at our final class session, Dec. 14.


How to Contact Me:  Office, SUT 345; Hrs. MWF, 11:15-1:15 or by appointment. Ph. X7-4879.  Email: tslater@iup.edu




8/31  Intro to course.  Film:  The Student of Prague (Henrik Galeen, 1926).


9/14  Readings:  B & T, 1-22, 74-107;  C & J, 1-50.


Viewing on Reserve for 9/14:  Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976).


9/21  Reading:  B & T, 112-53, 162-214, 304-09; C & J, 51-67.  Assign short essay 1.


9/28  Reading:  Stories of Hoffmann; C & J, 68-111; Film: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, season 1, episode 1.  .Short essay 1 due.


Viewing on Reserve for 10/5: Blade (Stephen Norrington, 1998).


10/5  Reading: B & T, 218-260, 355-70;  Duda, 7-66; 101-41.


10/12  Class visit from Heather Duda.  Film:  Borderline (1930).


10/19  Reading:  King; C & J, 91-111, 113-28.  Assign short essay 2.  Statements of research topics due.


Viewing on Reserve for 9/28:  What Lies Beneath (Robert Zemeckis, 2000); The Others (Alejandro Amenabar, 2001).


10/26  Reading: C & J, 112-27.  Short essay 2 due.


11/2  Film:  Don’t Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1974); Reading: 146-80.


11/9  Reading:  Dick; C & J, 181-215.


Viewing on Reserve for 11/16:  V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2005).


11/16  Reading:  Duda, 67-100.  Rough drafts of research papers due by the end of this week.  Assign short essay 3.


Viewing on Reserve for 11/30:  Pitch Black  (David Twohy, 2000).


11/30  Reading:  Duda, 142-70.  Short essay 3 due.


12/7  Viewing:  Dexter, season 1, episode 1.


12/14  Reading:  C & J, 216-28; Research essays due.  Assign final essay.


Friday, Dec. 18, 7:15 pm.  Final essay due.



  1. hey, Tom, I see here that you’re teaching “The Others”: you might also want to mention the Studies in Humanities essay the Nicole Mosco and I wrote on it and “The Turn of the Screw” and “The Innocents”. I think (blowing my own horn here) that it does a pretty good job of linking representations of the uncanny from a classic 19th-century text and its re-visions in 20th-century films.

  2. Wendy, Definitely. That is an excellent essay. I’ll put it on e-reserve for this course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: