A wooden chair next to a bookshelfStudies special topics that focus on a theme, genre, or theoretical issue not limited to a specific period or national tradition. Topics vary each semester.

Equivalent - Duplicate Degree Credit Not Granted: IAWP 6100
Repeatable: Repeatable for up to 9.00 total credit hours.
Requisites: Restricted to English (ENGL) and English Lit- Creative Writing (CRWR) graduate students only.
Additional Information:Departmental Category: Graduate Courses

This class will address weird and new weird fiction through a set of interlocking formal, historical, theoretical, disciplinary, and professional questions. What is weird fiction? What are the conditions of its emergence and various transformations? What types of thinking and scholarship does it afford? Why has it become the focus of scholarly attention in the early twenty-first century? How might graduate students and early-career researchers leverage this attention to their own benefit, whether by focusing on the weird or by adopting and deploying the discourse surrounding it for their own purposes?

More specifically, the class will consider:

  • the historical background against which fantastika—including weird fiction, Gothic horror, science fiction, and fantasy—emerged, namely the bourgeois revolutions of the eighteenth century and related transformations to knowledge production;
  • the four major periods of weird fiction both in terms of how they may be distinguished and in terns of how they overlap: 1880 – 1940 (the so-called “haute weird”), 1940 – 1980 (the so-called fallow period), 1980 – 2000 (the first instance of the new weird), and 2000 – present (the second new weird);
  • the weird’s generic and formal relations to horror, fantasy, and science fiction;
  • readings by William Hope Hodgson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, H.P. Lovecraft, Anna Kavan, Ramsey Campbell, Thomas Ligotti, Clive Barker, China Miéville, Steph Swaintson, Victor LaValle, Carmen Maria Machado, Stephen Graham Jones, and others;
  • theoretical debates about world literature and geoliterature; the anthropocene; critical theory, postcritical theory, and speculative theory; humanism and posthumanism; and race/gender/sexuality (especially insofar as these categories are erased in face of cosmic terror and abstract notions of posthumanity);
  • the professional discourse on the weird and our relation to it.

The class will not assume students to have any prior knowledge of weird fiction. Students with interests in any of the issues listed here are encouraged to sign up or email benjamin.j.robertson@colorado.edu for more information.

Taught by Ben Robertson.

A painting of an old buildingThis course will explore from multiple points of view the phenomenon of the enormous popularity of 18th- and 19th-century ruins—whether those be architectural, literary, or political, or all of these simultaneously. In fact, the course will maintain that there is no ruin that is not politically inflected.  Although the class focuses on the Romantic era in Britain, I have widened that scope. We will discuss ISIL’s 2015 destruction of the ancient ruins of Palmyra in what is now Syria; we will explore Native American ruins; and we will delve into the aftermaths of COVID-19 and September 11, 2001.

Expectations:  daily student participation; a short analytical paper, or, for MFA students, a creative piece; a short research presentation; a final paper of 15-20 pages.

Here are some themes we will explore and some possible readings.  Please note that this will change—I’ll subtract readings and offer others--and that the order presented here is not necessarily the order in which we will study these topics. 

  • The Ruin as a hopeful harbinger of the past and present. The ruined, crumbling, shattered place where one paradoxically finds a grounding, a tremulously stable place to land and from which to launch.
    • Themes to consider:  The projection in conflict with the sight; hope and consolation in the midst of disaster.
    • Possible Readings:  William Wordsworth:  “Tintern Abbey” and The Prelude, 1805
  • The Ruined City:  Ruin as representation of liberation, as a site dangerous to despotic rule and as a graveyard of hope:
    • Themes, places, and literature to consider:  
      • The ruins of Palmyra, an ancient city in what is now Syria, was first partially destroyed by the Roman Empire in order to squelch a female ruler and her city’s bid for freedom from imperial governance; it was further destroyed by ISIS in 2015 to squelch the Syrian resistance against tyranny.  
      • Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, a study of an apocalyptic plague that leaves all cities intact, and only one man standing
      • Themes to consider:  political implications of the ruin.  
    • Possible Readings:  Robert Wood, The Ruins of Palmyra (1753); Thomas Love Peacock:  Palmyra (1806); Louise Pelletier:  Architecture in Words:  Theater, language and the sensuous space of architecture (2006); Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826); Volney’s The Ruins of Empire (1791)A picture of red building arches
  • Literature as Ruin:  Deliberate and inadvertent fragments in Romantic-era poetry and literature.  Enormously popular in the early 19th century, fragments became a genre of their own, inviting readers to think about what is not present. 
  • Themes to consider:  Rendering the image into text and the text into the image; the invisible and the oblique; As Novalis wrote in On Goethe, “All that is visible clings to the invisible.  That which can be heard to that which cannot—that which can be felt to that which cannot.  Perhaps the thinkable to the unthinkable.” With Wollstonecraft, we can think about to about the Ruins of Gender-
    • Possible Readings:  Samuel Taylor Coleridge:  “Kubla Khan” (1797); John Keats:  Hyperion and the Fall of Hyperion (1820); Mary Wollstonecraft:  Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman
  • The traveling-tourist-seeking Ruin—in person and via reading and viewing—to the Sacred Space of the Ruin:
    • Themes to consider:  Why did so many Romantic-era tourists feel compelled to see these debris, this rubble? Was it nostalgia or a stern urge to conjure the past. Are ruins the magic space of summoning or a pedagogical warning?  How does travel stimulate mass reproduction; what is a spectacle; how does a traveler really see versus imaginatively appropriate the visual—and is there anything wrong with the later?
    • Possible Readings: Roger Célestin:  From Cannibals to Radicals:  Figures and Limits of Exoticism (1996); Edward Said:  Orientalism (1978);  Several tourist accounts from the late 18th and 19th centuries
  • Contemporary Ruins:  We'll address this in our last class. We will discuss Native American ruins and the ruins and impacts of September 11, 2001 and Covid-19.  
    • Themes to consider:  how does a historical moment affect views of the Ruin? What happens when ruins are “new” rather than 100’s of years old?  Can the contemporary ruin be a site of hope or consolation? In fact, how do we see the contemporary ruin? How has it been visualized in the arts and in personal accounts? Are the future’s promises always necessarily eclipsed by disasters that lead to ruins? How do we cope with disaster and ruin?  How does the ruin invite us to rethink the past, present, and future?
    • Possible readings:  Johann Drucker’s Graphesis:  Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (2014); personal accounts; other readings to be announced. James A. Swan: Sacred Ground in Natural:  The Power of Place and Human Environments (1991).

Taught by Jill Heydt-Stevenson.