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ENGL 3060 Modern and Contemporary Literature for Nonmajors


Kurtis Hessel


Gazing into the night sky we humans recognize a vastness that diminishes us; we feel fear. Faced with impersonal and immovable forces in our everyday lives – government, capital, time, an indifferent nature, our own mortality – we feel powerless. These feelings give rise to a nagging certainty that something deeper lurks beneath the ordered veneer of civilization. Dark voices whisper from storm drains at night; the wind whips eerie chimes into an unsettling toccata; that stranger at the bus station with the singed coat and high collar, who wears a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes, hides a menacing grin and an arcane intelligence. He would spin tales of a dark wonder, were we foolish enough to let down our guard.

In this class, we will explore this fear that afflicts the modern world by looking at what scholars call “Weird Fiction,” also known as the literature of horror. Since the beginning of the 20th century, authors have tried to represent the strange beings and circumstances that inspire this sense of cosmic terror. Often, especially early in the century, this genre was relegated to cheap periodicals, pulp magazines full of literary “trash.” Modernist discontent, fabulous beasts, and eldritch doomscapes were too tawdry for literary culture’s elite arbiters of taste. More recently, this kind of writing has gained some literary legitimacy, recognized now as a coherent 20th-century literary tradition. We will consider that development, discussing the century’s separation of so-called high and low cultures. We will also explore, more broadly, how the publication circumstances of this weird literature have shaped the stories it seeks to tell. Finally, we will talk about fear. As we read stories and novels that span the century, we’ll discuss what cultural concerns might have stood behind the otherworldly horrors that our authors envisioned, and we’ll consider our own time, and the fears that inform the stories we tell.


Students will:

  • Gain exposure to 19th– and 20th-century literary works in the linked genres of gothic literature, weird fiction, and popular horror.
  • Learn to apply techniques of close reading to texts to engage them on multiple analytical levels.
  • Study the difference between high and low culture, and explore how popular fiction gains literary legitimacy
  • Practice the techniques of cultural studies to make informed arguments about the relationships between literary texts that the societies that produce them
  • Practice composing convincing arguments about literary texts.


Primary course texts are likely to include the following:

  • P. Lovecraft: “The Color out of Space,” “The Whisperer in Darkness,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” “The Call of Cthulhu”
  • Clark Ashton Smith: “Genius Loci,” “The Uncharted Isle,” “The City of the Singing Flame,” “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis,” selected poems
  • Robert E. Howard: “The People of the Black Circle”
  • R. Leavis: “Mass Civilization and Minority Culture”
  • Adorno and Horkheimer: “The Culture Industry”
  • S. Eliot: “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
  • Ernest Hemingway: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
  • William Faulkner: “A Rose for Emily”
  • Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
  • Edgar Allan Poe: “The Tell-tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” selected poems
  • Henry James: “The Turn of the Screw”
  • Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
  • Richard Matheson: Hell House
  • Octavia Butler: Dawn
  • Thomas Ligotti: “The Nyctalops Trilogy”
  • Clipping: Splendor and Misery
  • Selected anonymously authored stories and urban legends from Reddit “No Sleep” and
  • Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor: Welcome to Nightvale (selected episodes)
  • Stephen King: “Jerusalem’s Lot”
  • Jeff Vandermeer: Annihilation


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8:00am to 5:00pm


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