English 26: Course Description

This course begins with a creature at the heart of our popular culture – the vampire, the monster, the clone, the inhuman “other” who is not one of us and yet is, at times, unsettlingly like us.  We will study a range of texts – literary and scientific – that explore the limits of the human.  We’ll think about how we conceive of identity and difference, self and other, and we’ll ask just how different cultures define what is “normal” human life.  Our course will be rooted in the nineteenth century, the age not just of Frankenstein’s monster and the blood-thirsty Dracula, but also of Darwinian evolution.   What kinds of questions get brought up at the borders of the human in, for example, Victorian texts, and how do these questions differ from the ones asked today?  Although we might be studying the freaky and the fantastic, what we are really concerned with in this class is closer to home: what is human?  Why is this question so difficult to answer?  We will explore how texts across periods and genres approach the question. As we pursue the human and the non-human through a variety of texts, we will return again and again to the intersections between science and the humanities.  What does it mean to study “the human” in a literature class?  What kinds of approaches to texts do we need to employ? 

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