Monstrous Bodies

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” ~ George Orwell

Syllabus

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  We’re drawn to and fascinated by horror because the genre reminds us, more than any other, that we have both outsides and insides, skin and guts, eyes and gray matter, ideas and appetites. The genre depicts bodies torn apart and monstrously reconfigured, but horror also reminds us that there are bodies in the audience, bodies in our living rooms, bodies seeing, bodies reading, bodies screaming.

Monstrosity Wordle
Our course begins by considering the nature of monstrosity, what monsters are, what they do, and what they mean. Monsters are the quintessential Other w/ a capital “O,” persons or creatures defined as different from (and viewed as functioning outside) the dominant social group. They are the forgotten, the repressed, the underbelly of culture. As we survey a wide variety of monstrous bodies and texts, we will consider the following sorts of questions: Why is culture so quick to turn away in the face of the unnameable? What sorts of identity groups are deemed monstrous and ostracized by culture? What happens to bodies transformed (by technology, death, evolution, etc.)? What is the relationship between humans and animals? And, perhaps most importantly, why do we create monsters? What cultural function do they serve? Finally, we’ll spend a good deal of time considering our own relationship to the works of the course (and our own potential for monstrosity), thinking about the real (psychological and physical) impact media has on us. While working on a multimodal research-intensive project, students will engage in activities/assignments that explore the sometimes monstrous (and sometimes violent) nature of composition itself.

The subject will lead us through difficult terrain (vampires, slashers, cannibals, the walking dead, etc.), and we will have to sludge through some gore along the way. If you are squeamish you would likely prefer another section of this course.

REQUIRED TEXTS:
Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye
Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead, Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us
Bram Stoker, Dracula (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
John Gardner, Grendel
H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program’s custom-designed E-text
Online PDFs (Readings are password-protected.)

OPTIONAL TEXT: (John Gardner's Grendel, which we're discussing this semester, is the story of Beowulf told from the monster's perspective. Many people read Beowulf in high school. If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend you check it out, as I think you'll enjoy Grendel more if you know the story.)
Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

REQUIRED FILMS: (While you are not required to purchase these, I’m including links here in case you want to work more closely with any of these films on the assignments you complete this semester. You may want to consider investing in a Netflix membership for this course. You can get a free trial by clicking here.)
Gareth Edwards, Monsters (2010)
Cooper and Schoedsack, King Kong (1933)
Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds (1963)
Ridley Scott, Alien (1979)
Matt Reeves, Let Me In (2010)
George Romero, Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Frank Darabont, The Walking Dead, “Guts” (2010)
Toby Wilkins Splinter (2008)
Neil Marshall, The Descent (2005)

REQUIRED MATERIALS:
There will be various costs for the materials and incidentals you’ll need to complete major projects (see below). Estimate an additional $30 - $40 beyond the cost of required texts. This includes a $10 contribution to the film production, which is the major class project.

OUTCOMES: The expected Outcomes For First-Year Composition in the Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program can be found here. Specific aspects of this document will be referred to in the instructions for each of the assignments you complete this semester.

ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION: Since this is a collaborative course, focusing heavily on discussion and work in groups, you have a responsibility to yourself and your classmates to show up for class on time and prepared.  The class will be a cooperative learning experience, a true intellectual community.  And so, you and your work are, in a very real sense, the primary texts for this course.  Because of this, participation will be a very large component of your final grade.  More than three absences during the semester will lower your final grade for participation by one full letter grade.  More than six absences may result in automatic failure of the course. Also, in order for the class to work together as a community, it is important that you complete all assigned work before each class session.  If you are going to miss class or can’t finish the assigned work for any reason, your best strategy is to discuss this with me in advance either in person or via e-mail.

OFFICE HOURS: I have scheduled regular office hours and I’m also available by appointment. If you’d like to meet in person, I’d recommend setting up a time in advance. I’m always happy to meet with you (to discuss the course or just to chat). This is the most effective way for me to give you individual attention and get to know you better. I encourage you to meet with me as early in the semester as possible, especially if you have any particular questions or concerns. I’m also very easy to reach by e-mail. In fact, e-mail is (by far) the best and quickest way to contact me. You can send an e-mail with questions or comments to me at Jesse.Stommel@lcc.gatech.edu.

E-MAIL: I will be sending regular announcements to you via e-mail, so if you do not check your e-mail regularly, you will miss important information.

ONLINE COURSE CONTENT: There are numerous links on this webpage that take you to various assignments and readings we will be doing throughout the semester.  You can access e-texts of some of the readings via this web page--just click on the title in the schedule.  My advice:  if you make this web site your friend, you’ll have no trouble completing all the reading and assignments for the course.  As we proceed, I will be uploading additional content, including more course notes, activities, and assignments, so keep checking for updates.

COLLABORATION: Collaboration will be a major component of this course. You will collaborate with your classmates on nearly every assignment you complete. While I will work closely with you to help you navigate these collaborations, if you are entirely uncomfortable working with a group, you would likely prefer another section of this course.

THE WORK OF THE COURSE: Specific details for major assignments forthcoming as the semester proceeds.

Class Participation. This includes your attendance, involvement in class discussion, in-class assignments, and small-group work. As I mentioned, this is (by far) the most important component of the course.

Blog. This is an offshoot of class participation.  For this course you will be required to contribute to a blog where you will discuss your work and respond to issues that are raised in our reading and in class discussion.  Unlike journaling or response papers you’d submit only to me, this will give you a chance to practice your writing in a more social forum. You are required to contribute at least one polished entry to the blog over the course of the semester, either focused on the production of the final project or offering an analysis of one of the films/texts we’re discussing. You must also comment on one or more of your peers' blogs at least twice per week. These comments should be as collaborative as possible.  In other words, don’t just throw your ideas into a vacuum.  Instead, ask questions of each other and use the other comments as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc. A blog entry can be collaboratively written (in a group of 2-3) and should be 500 - 750 words. A comment (written individually) should be 100 - 200 words.

Leading Class Discussion. You will help lead discussion at least one time throughout the semester.  This is not a formal presentation.  Rather, on the day you sign up for, be prepared to come to class with a few questions or topics related to the reading/film for that day, and bring at least one or two passages/clips which you’d like the group to look at in detail.  You are also encouraged to engage your group in writing or other activities related to the text you’re discussing.  As you are leading class discussion, I will be mostly silent, moderating the discussions to some degree but primarily acting as a member of the group w/ my own questions, comments, etc.  This activity will generally help shape the direction our discussion takes for the rest of the class period.

Worksheets. As a tool to help us focus our discussion, there will be a number of short worksheets due during the semester (two of these are already scheduled, although more may be added).  These will consist of a single question or a set of questions designed to get you thinking about various themes, conflicts, and issues at play in the works we’ll be discussing. Please refer to the schedule for due dates.

Final Film Project. As a class, we will be producing a short (15 min) film. Throughout the semester, you will work in teams of 5 on various aspects of the film (production, screenwriting, filmmaking, post-production, and marketing). Since research is one of the major components of the course, you will be required to research your role carefully. Throughout the semester, you will also be researching thematic and historical topics related to the theme of the film. All of the other assignments you complete for the class will serve as ancillaries for the finished film. Within the first few weeks of the semester, you will begin work on the final film as part of one of five departments (each with a department head):

Production: The production department will be in charge of legal, financing, casting, and location scouting. They will produce a production schedule for the film in the first half of the semester and will work on coordinating a mini-film festival at the end of the semester.

Screenwriting: The screenwriting department will create a screenplay and storyboards for the film in the first half of the semester and will work on a published shooting script (a polished and formatted version with images, etc.) in the second half of the semester. They will also send members to the set to advise and re-write as the film is being shot.

Filmmaking: The filmmaking department will be in charge of shooting, lighting, directing, sound, etc. The film will be shot about halfway through the semester. The filmmakers will spend the first half of the semester acquiring equipment, building sets (if necessary), assembling costumes/props, etc. Once the film is shot, the filmmakers will work on a short (3 min) behind-the-scenes documentary.

Post-production: The post-production department will be in charge of editing, music, sound-effects, titles and credits, visual effects, etc. They will spend the first half of the semester preparing music, sound effects, and visual effects. The bulk of their work will be done in the second half of the semester, editing the film once it has been shot.

Marketing: The marketing department will produce a teaser trailer in the first half of the semester. In the second half of the semester, they will work on a full preview, a press-release, a DVD w/ insert, a web-site, and a film festival program.

Treatment.  A treatment is a short synopsis used to pitch an idea for a film. At the start of the semester, before you’ve broken into departments, you will work on this project in groups of 2-3. Your treatment should be around 750 words and will include a logline (a 1-2 sentence summary of your idea), market research, a description of the major scenes/characters, and a discussion of themes the film would explore. You should also include sketches or other visual aids to support your proposal and a bibliography. I will choose 3-5 of the best treatments, which you will vote on as a class to determine what film will be made.

Poster. Halfway through the semester, everyone will create a poster that engages in an analytic or argumentative way with themes we’ve been discussing in the course. These could be posters that directly advertise the film we are making as a class, or they could be more tangentially related, such as a map or timeline of the historical/cultural progression of the horror film or a mash-up of significant monsters in literature and film. You will have the option of completing a poster on your own or with a group of 2-3.

Portfolio. At the end of the semester, you will select examples of and write reflections about the written, visual, and electronic artifacts you have created in this class. You will also write a reflection on your experience leading class discussion. Additional information about requirements for the portfolio can be found here.

GRADING: While I will be assigning final grades, you will also be evaluating your own work and the work of your team. At the middle of the semester, you will write a midterm self-evaluation that reflects on your work and contributions throughout the course.  You will complete a similar self-evaluation at the end of the semester. Having your account of your own process is a very big part of how I assign grades. I will be giving evaluative feedback on major assignments, and you will definitely hear from me if I have concerns about your self-evaluations. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you are expected to.  If this process causes you anxiety, see me at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date. 

Participation (including worksheets, leading class discussion, conferences, etc.) -- 30%
Blog -- 10%
Treatment -- 10%
Poster -- 10%
Multimodal Final Project -- 20%
Midterm and Final Self-evaluations -- 10%
Portfolio -- 10%

ASSIGNMENTS RUBRIC: As you work on your self-evaluations, please see the Writing and Communication Program’s rubric.

PLAGIARISM: First, I will say that if you are unable to complete an assignment for any reason, it is in your best interest to discuss the situation with me.  Authorship is a hotly contested topic in the academy.  At what point do we own the words we say and write or the images we create?  Among authors and filmmakers, creative influence, collaboration, and a certain amount of borrowing are acceptable (even encouraged).  So, what sort of statement or warning about plagiarism would be appropriate in this class?  Let me go out on a limb and say:  in this class, I encourage you to borrow ideas (from me, from the authors we read, from the films we watch, from your classmates).  However, even more, I encourage you to really make them your own—by playing with, manipulating, applying, and otherwise turning them on their head.  In the end, it’s just downright boring to rest on the laurels of others.  It’s altogether more daring (and, frankly, more fun) to invent something new yourself—a new idea, a new way of thinking, a new claim, a new image.  This doesn’t give you license to copy something in its entirety and slap your name on it.  That’s just stealing.  Instead, think very consciously about how you are influenced by your sources—by the way knowledge and creativity depend on a sort of inheritance.  And think also about the real responsibility you have to those sources.  

LAPTOP COMPUTER USE: This course requires you to bring your laptop computer to all class meetings.

ACADEMIC CONDUCT: You are responsible for knowing and abiding by GT’s policy for academic integrity. Consult the Honor Code online at http://www.honor.gatech.edu. Work that violates the Honor Code will not be accepted and may result in failure of the entire course. I will also report any serious misconduct to the Office of Student Integrity.

DISABILITY NOTICE: If you need accommodations for a disability, please contact me at the beginning of the semester so that we can discuss them. You should also contact Access Disabled Assistance Program for Tech Students (ADAPTS) within the first two weeks of the semester so that they can help us to develop reasonable accommodations. For an appointment with a counselor call (404) 894-2564 (voice) / (404) 894-1664 (voice/TDD) or visit 220 Student Services Building. For more information visit http://www.adapts.gatech.edu.