COURSE DESCRIPTION: We are at a point in our evolution as a species where we’ve become not quite living not quite dead.  With the advent of virtual bodies (in video games, chat rooms, online profiles, etc.), cloning, cyborg technology, and even the cell phone, we are seeing ourselves become more and more disembodied.  This feeling of disembodiment is why we’ve become so obsessed in our entertainment media with bodies, dead and otherwise--with cadavers, crime scenes, bodily mutilation, and torture.  We crave a truly visceral experience of the body--of bodies torn apart and reassembled, bodies breathing and stopped of breath, bodies scrutinized post-mortem, and bodies (no matter how gruesome) as aesthetically viable objects.  The zombie is part and parcel of this cultural obsession, but it is also the antidote.  The zombie threatens to deconstruct us (to eat us), but in an altogether different way from the machine.  Whereas machines devour our flesh, the zombie just chews, turning us into zombies, which are the epitome of flesh.  Machines take our flesh away.  Zombies proffer it back.

In this course, we examine a multimedia array of texts that explore the zombie and its literary and figurative precursors, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.  We also ask larger philosophical questions about what it is to be “human,” what it is to be “living,” and what it is to be “dead.”  In addition to working on a multimodal research-intensive project over the course of the term, students engage in activities/assignments that consider the material and immaterial nature of media itself.  What constitutes the flesh of an essay?  Does a word have flesh?  Does film have flesh?  Do interactive texts have flesh?  And to what extent do they engage us at the level of flesh?

The subject leads us through difficult terrain (topics like death, corpses, embalming, rotting flesh, cannibalism, etc.), and we will have to sludge through some gore along the way.  If you’re squeamish, you may have to cover your eyes at certain moments, but we’re in this together, so talking about what, how, and why we recoil will be one of the subjects of this class.

Ben Hervey, BFI Film Classics: Night of the Living Dead
Robert Kirkman,
The Walking Dead [Vol. 1 softcover including issues 1-6]
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
(Optional): Mary Shelley, Frankenstein [we'll be discussing a few short excerpts]

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Monster Culture: Seven Theses"
Peter Dendle, "Introduction to The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia"
Mary Roach, "Excerpt from Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers"
Mark Jancovich, "Introduction to Horror, The Film Reader"
H. P. Lovecraft, "The Outsider"

George Romero: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George Romero, Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Danny Boyle, 28 Days Later (2002)
Edgar Wright, Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The Walking Dead, "Guts" (2010)

ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION: This is a collaborative course, focusing on discussion and work in groups. 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. In order for the class to work together as a community, it is important that you complete all assigned work. If you 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’m frequently in my office and 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 questions or comments to me at And you can also contact me via Twitter (@Jessifer).

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 term.  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 course notes, activities, and assignments, so keep checking for updates.

COLLABORATION: You will collaborate with your peers on many of the assignments you complete for this course. If you have questions about the various ways collaboration can work, feel free to chat with me at any point.  

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

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

Blog. This is essentially an offshoot of class participation. Throughout the term you will be writing responses to the course blog. Some of these responses will be more structured (i.e. a response to questions I give to you), while many of them will be more flexible, allowing you to respond to any aspect of the text/film we are studying. Responses 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 responses as a jumping off point by answering questions, amplifying or complicating ideas, etc.

Treatment. A treatment is a short synopsis used to pitch an idea for a film. At the start of the term, you will work on this project in a group 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.

Poster. 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(s) 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 moments in the history of zombies. You will have the option of completing a poster on your own or with a group of 2-3.

Final Film Project. As a class, we will be producing a short (15 - 20 min) film (or an anthology of shorter films). Throughout the term, you will work in small teams on various aspects of the film (production, screenwriting, filmmaking, post-production, and marketing). All of the other assignments you complete for the class will serve as ancillaries for the finished film. During our first weekend together, you will begin work on the final film on tasks like:

Production: The production department will be in charge of legal, financing, casting, and location scouting. They will produce a production schedule for the film and will work on coordinating the release of our film.

Screenwriting: The screenwriting department will create a screenplay and storyboards for the film and will work on a published shooting script (a polished and formatted version with images, etc.).

Filmmaking: The filmmaking department will be in charge of shooting, lighting, directing, sound, etc. The film will be shot during our second weekend together. The filmmakers will be responsible for acquiring equipment, building sets (if necessary), assembling costumes/props, etc. The filmmakers will also 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 prepare music, sound effects, and visual effects. They will also edit the film once it has been shot.

Marketing: The marketing department will produce a teaser trailer, a full preview, a press-release, a web-site, and be responsible for coordinating a print advertising campaign.

GRADING: This course will focus on qualitative not quantitative assessment, something we’ll discuss during the class, both with reference to your own work and the works we’re studying. While you will get a final grade at the end of the term, I will not be putting grades on individual assignments, but rather questions and comments that truly engage with your work rather than simply evaluate it. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and engaging thoughtfully with the work of your peers. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best strategy should be to join the discussions, do the reading, and complete all assignments. You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.

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.  

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