Sunday, November 02, 2008

Geek Out!

It's been a while since I've had a real, honest, down-to-earth geekspasm. But it hit me today, and now it's time to share.

Some of you may know about the monsters class taught at my university. It's a legend among Western students, and I've been quick to brag about it to people who don't know. That said, I've never taken it. I have my excuses - they include the usual "not enough credits to register in time" and the not-so-usual "Bruce Beasley was on sabbatical." But Bruce is back, I'm a senior with too many extra credits, and the Monsters class is on again for Winter quarter! I did a quick search of the internet and stumbled upon a true gem - the syllabus for the class! Here it is, so you can either get stoked for it and plan to sign up, or be jealous that my school is better than yours:

(note: I'm only quoting bits from Bruce's syllabus, since Thor's is disappointingly sparse and uninteresting)

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Selections from John Milton, Paradise Lost
Grimms’ Fairy Tales
Flannery O’Connor, The Collected Stories
Nikolai Gogol, “The Nose”
Sigmund Freud, selected essays
the book of Job (King James version)
Darrin Strauss, Chang and Eng: A Novel
Bruno Bettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment.

In this course we will consider the literature, psychology, and mythology of the monstrous. The course will examine cultural fascination and repulsion toward the monstrous body through the lens of poetry, short stories, novels, fairy tales, Biblical texts, and films. We will examine ways in which the boundaries of the “normal” are questioned and dissolved by confrontations with monstrous otherness, both dreamed and real: the vampire and werewolf; the Leviathan; the fifty-foot woman and the incredible shrinking man; the moral monstrosity of Satan’s Milton and O’Connor’s murderous Misfit; the comic monstrosity of Gogol’s Nose that secedes from the body and takes on a cultured and socially successful life of its own. We will examine the ways in which societies constructed fantasies of the monstrous in order to confront (and mythologize) their deepest cultural and individual fears, as they externalize into film, fairy tale, literature, and scripture some of the monsters that lie outside and within.

This course is linked to Geology 204 in which we’ll be considering the physiology and science of the monstrous body through the fossil record of prehistoric “monsters” and through study of the “monstrous” bodies of whales, sharks, giant squids, and arthropods. The objective of the course is to combine scientific and humanistic investigation of human reactions to the monstrous in both its inhuman and human forms (and especially in those monstrous imaginations of forms in which the monstrous inhuman becomes inseparably merged with the human body through excess, deformity, and human-inhuman hybrids like the werewolf and vampire).

Week One. The psychology of revulsion. Freud, “The Uncanny.” Bettleheim, from The Uses of Enchantment. Brothers Grimm, “Hansel and Gretel”; Beauty and the Beast”

Week Two. The monstrous as revelatory. Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” Ambrose ParĂ©, “On Monsters and Marvels.” Book of Job.

Week Three. Gigantism and Excess. The monstrous as the excessive, the too-large, the terrifyingly outgrown: the cultural background of monster films, including selections from Attack of the 50-Foot Woman; King Kong; Godzilla; Mothra

Week Four. The monstrous and excess, continued: conjoined twins; the “double monster”; selections from Chang and Eng: A Novel. Monstrosity as a parasitic doubleness inside the body: scenes from Alien.

Week Five. Monstrosity through excessive subtraction: the part become the whole. Gogol, “The Nose.” Selections from Michael Paterniti, Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain

Week Six. The Beast Inside, and the Charming Monster. Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. The Stepfather.

Week Seven. The Beast Outside. Selections from Beowulf. Kafka, “The Metamorphosis”; Hitchcock, The Birds

Week Eight. The Beast Inside and Outside. Bram Stoker, Dracula

Weeks Nine and Ten. Technology and Monstrosity. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

This class is intense, in case you can't tell. My brother took it the first year it was offered - if I remember correctly, I was a senior in high school at the time. He complained about the extensive reading required, but got incredibly involved in the project where he got to create and develop his own monster. It's an 8 credit course, 5 days a week for an hour and a half. It's not for the weak of heart or lackluster interest.

However, if one isn't scared off by the amount of work involved, just think about it! I've never met Bruce Beasley, but I've heard he's a pretty rad dude. As for Thor... I've been more than a bit creepy about him in the past. I've taken his Geology and Dinosaurs courses and stalked him on Facebook before it became popular to do. He's an incredibly entertaining guy, a bigger (and more interesting) nerd than any I've ever met, and anyone can imagine the atmosphere with the two of them working together. You've seen the Facebook photos, heard of the infamous Monster Sex lecture, and I know more than a few of my friends snuck in to watch the final project presentations in the class.

As for me, personally, I've been dying to take real classes again. But now, this! I get to take real classes, AND take the monster class I've had my eyes set on since HIGH SCHOOL. I could not possibly be any more excited for Winter quarter to start than I am RIGHT NOW.

You did notice they're using scenes from Alien to demonstrate monstrosity, right? Flashbacks to Dinosaurs: "And in case you're having a hard time imagining this, here's a clip from Jurassic Park. I love this fight scene!"

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