“Zombies: A Post/Colonial History.” Zombies are everywhere these days: as Sarah Juliet Lauro puts it in The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and Living Death (2015), “the zombie has been ubiquitous, ‘cultural common coin’” over the past two decades. As Lauro goes on to caution, the figure of the zombie “has been so prevalent in the entertainment of North Americans that the fact that the majority remain unaware of its extraordinary postcolonial significance indicates a surprising (if not malicious) cultural blind spot.” The purpose of this seminar course is to address that blind spot by restoring the walking dead to their original Caribbean context (the Haitian revolution and its aftermath) and then tracing the history of their appropriation by North American popular culture—a history that dates from the time of the U.S. Occupation of Haiti (1915-34). In charting the genealogy of the zombie, we will be guided in great part by Roger Luckhurst’s informative and accessible Zombies: A Cultural History (2015), which we will be reading in its entirety over the course of the semester. After an introductory unit examining “colonial gothic” and the ways in which Haitian culture (and notably, Vaudou) were portrayed in literary and cultural texts before and during the U.S. Occupation, we will look at specific points of transmission through which, in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s the zombie entered into “our” popular culture, notably through pulp fiction (in magazines such as Weird Tales), films (such as White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie), and horror comics (such as Voodoo) that helped solidify the myth. After this genealogical journey, we will move on to the present, focusing on a handful of Caribbean novels—such as René Depestre's Hadriana in my Dreams (1988) and Pedro Cabiya’s Wicked Weeds (2011)—that rework the figure of the zombie in ways which contest the racialized assumptions of mainstream North American popular culture: Although we will not have time for in-class study of more familiar manifestations of present-day zombie culture (video games, television serials, literary mash-ups of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies genre, etc.), the course will conclude with presentations based on Kyle William Bishop’s How Zombies Conquered Popular Culture (2015) in which students are asked to speak about particular manifestations of contemporary zombie culture.
Assessments will consist of:
- 8-10 take-home quizzes
- 5-6 discussion-leading assignments/OnQ forum posts
- Minor Homework/in-class assignments
- Class participation and attendance
- ENGL 200
- ENGL 290