Communication and Culture | Communication, Culture, and Social Formations (Topic: American Uncanny: Constructing the Unnatural in Modernity)
C314 | 14248 | Lepselter, S.

TuTh, 11:15 AM-12:30 PM, SB 138

Meets with AMST-A 399

Fulfills College S&H Requirement

Instructor: Susan Lepselter
Office: 800 E. 3rd St. – room 285
Phone: 856-3878

There is an eerie feeling we often describe by its symptoms: the
hair rising on the back of your neck or goose bumps sprouting up on
your arm.  Some call it getting the “willies.” But the uncanny is
more than an eerie feeling.  According to Sigmund Freud, the uncanny
emerges at those moments when something hidden has leaked partly
into view.  It points us towards something that is both strange and
familiar at once.  In all its unnatural weirdness, the uncanny
reminds us of something we already know.

This course examines various theories and incarnations of the
uncanny in America, asking at each point how social facts are both
hidden and revealed. If the uncanny is in part familiar to us, what
is the connection between it and ordinary experience? How do people
imagine the natural, the unnatural and the supernatural in American
life?  If modernity is supposedly marked by the rational and the
scientific, what do we make of the uncanny’s power in various forms
of modern life?

Drawing on ideas from psychoanalysis, folklore, anthropology and
literary theory, we will explore the politics and poetics of the
uncanny in a range of American worlds, from 19th century New
England, to 20th century Hmong-American and Mexican-American
neighborhoods, to 21st century UFO abductee groups.  There will be
some comparative exploration of topics including a Japanese cult and
contemporary African rumors of sorcery.  We will study the
performance of the uncanny in face-to-face storytelling, as well as
in films and novels. We will explore the many meanings of
the “alien” in UFO abduction and the ways in which history can haunt
through ghosts.  Other topics will include: séances and
spiritualism, fatal nightmares, the politics of memory and false
memory, conspiracy theory, near-death and out-of-body experiences,
apocalyptic desire, accusations of witchcraft and demon possession,
and the concept of soul fright.  By studying the uncanny as it is
performed in a range of venues, we will attempt to understand a
fuller range of human experience in modernity, including the
experience of everyday life.

Texts will include, in whole or in part:
Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny.
Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary
Battaglia, Debbora, ed. E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outer Spaces.
Brown, Bridget. They Know Us Better than We Know Ourselves: The
Politics and History of Alien Abduction.
Frankfurter, David. Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and
Satanic Abuse in History.
Hufford, David. The Terror that Comes in the Night.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved.
Gordon, Avery. Ghostly Matters.