Literature of Horror, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Course Blog for LMST345 Ringling College of Art

This week we will be discussing recent trends in the horror genre and among the most influential, in my view, is what some call The New Weird. 

The term evokes the old Weird Tales Magazine, a pulp magazine in which a range of stories appeared  dramatizing uncanny experience, tales of the monstrous, or experiences with the supernatural. There was an easy mixing of genre in this publication with little attention to whether any individual work would have been considered horror, science fiction or fantasy. Some works appearing there would have elements of all three. 

The New Weird seems to me to imply something of an emphasis on the horrific or uncanny, while "slipstream" a similar term that evolved in roughly the same time period, seemed to place something of an emphasis on the science fiction elements of the story. Both terms reflect interests that were self-consciously literary and whose projects tended to dissolve barriers between genre. While based in genre, works of these types often use surreal and anti-real strategies and don't necessarily rely on the storytelling conventions of realistic fiction. 

Bizarro fiction, a literary based movement with a similar orientation against the conventions of realistic storytelling also emerges in roughly the same time period, especially the years 2007-2008 when these terms become more widely discussed.

The most prominent writer described as embodying The New Weird is the English novelist, China Miéville. King Rat, his first novel which takes place in the old school dub step culture of London is the featured work for this week, Three Moments of an Explosion which is a collection of shorter work is a good alternative Another recent novel of hisRailsea, a reimagining of Moby Dick with steam trains and giant moles. Perdido Street Station, a longer novel is considered one of the major works of The New Weird.

In film, The New Weird might in someways be best represented by Mumblegore, an independent horror genre that parallels many of the same production techniques and approaches as Mumblecore films. The production values include micro-budgets, unknown actors and improvised dialogue.

Here's a link to excellent article about Mumblegore and some of its personalities from the LA Weekly.

The movie, Cabin in the Woods, with its over-the-top deployment of every genre element it can muster is this week's featured movie.  V/H/S (2012), an anthology film from several directors associated with the Mumblegore movement, is an interesting alternative choice. The old school weird movie Freaks by Tod Browning is also highly recommended.

There are a number of other books and films listed on the course syllabus for this week that suggest possible new directions for the genre of horror. We will discuss some of those in specific and the future of horror in general when we meet in class.

In the writing assignment for this week I would like you to create a blog post that discusses what you read for the topic of the New Weird and what you think other future trends in the genre of horror might be and why that trend is developing.

This week we are considering the sub-genres of J-Horror and K-horror as well as supernatural tales from South Asian cinema. This is a type of storytelling often with its roots in traditional ghost stories. The novels and films featured this week often embody a sense of the emptiness of contemporary life, representing a world in which the protagonists are having a great deal of trouble finding their place. A sense of existential crisis pervades these stories, a crisis not only shared among the central characters but a crisis in the fabric of the reality they inhabit.

The reading for this week is Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase. This novel is a ghost story in the manner of traditional Japanese ghost stories in which ghosts are material phenomena, real and tangible in this world, not spectral. It's this sort of ghost that inhabits J-horror and is in part developed out of traditional dramatic forms like the puppet theater, or the Noh theater tradition. The style of these traditional types of ghost stories is well represented in the movie, Kwaidan, which is one of the suggested films for this week. Alternatively, you may want to read Kwaidan, the collection of traditional ghost stories or read the novel on which the movie Battle Royale is based by Koshun Takami.
Double Page spread from the third volume of the Battle Royale Manga

The featured movie for this week is Audition by Takashi Miike. The violence in this film is very graphic, you might want to consider any of the alternatives listed on the syllabus.

You can see more details on this week's assignment on the assignment page for this week on the syllabus here.

Over the last hundred and fifty years the representation of the vampire has shifted from merciless monster of the evil dead, through suave continental lover, to troubled boyfriend from a dysfunctional family. What makes vampires so sexy? Is it because they want something more than sex? Has the vampire become the representation of a male who really understands women and will listen to what they want? What's with all the high school girl vampires these days? The Vampire seems to have completely evolved into a gender neutral concept.

Reading Assignment: This week's featured novel, Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire, transformed and familiarized the concept of the vampire and radically altered the context of the vampire story. 
If you have read Anne Rice or you wish to sample the vampires of the moment, alternatively, you can try reading Vampire Academy, the first work in two series of books and a recent film based in the vampire world of Richelle Mead. These are the featured works we are discussing this week along with a number of vampire movies.

The contemporary vampire tale has become a means of exploring a relationship with a complex and contradictory character, revitalizing the plot of forbidden love. In your reading for the week what pairs of  ideas or representations does the author place in opposition to one another? Does the author seem to privilege one set of ideas or values over the other? What set of values does the vampire represent? Are those the dominant or privileged ideas advanced in the work? How does the story you read embody larger arguments about values in human society? Does the work seem to express a simple morality on the surface, but a more complex moral environment once one considers the issues at more depth? What values does the work really seem to portray? 

This week's required movie is Only Lovers Left Alive directed by Jim Jarmusch or alternatively, Neil Jordan's Byzantium which we will be seeing a selection from in class. Please check the course resources page and the syllabus for alternative texts. 

If you have not yet created your blog and/or sent me the url for it so I can link it to this course blog, please do so now.

The image above is by Edvard Munch is often called "The Vampire" because of a critic who saw that theme in the work. But Munch's title for the work was "Love and Pain," the woman comforting the man whose head she cradles, not sucking his blood.

Next week we will talk about J-Horror, the various themes of horror and macabre events that we associate with storytelling from Japan, especially the recent wave of popular horror films. The featured work is a contemporary ghost story by Haruki Murakami, one of Japan's major writers, entitled A Wild Sheep Chase. The recommended alternative choice is Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn. Another possible book to read might be Battle Royale: The Novel by Koushun Takami.
Panels from Joss Whedon's Buffy The Vampire Slayer Comic

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