Reflections Seminars: Fall 2019

Reflections paired courses Fall 2019

In Search of Secret Knowledge

  • Tuesday 14h30 – 18h30 and Thursday 14h30 – 17h30
  • Greg Polakoff (Hum 101 Knowledge) and Kristopher Woofter (Eng 101 ICE – Introduction to College English)

From the ancient Gnostic tradition that saw the spark of divinity within the grasp of humanity, to the transgressive border crossings of mad science, occultism, and beyond, this course explores the quest for secret knowledge in religion, philosophy, literature, and film. Arguably, the crucial drive that unites these traditions is the desire for a kind of immortality—to transcend the material limitations of the human body and mind, and the limits of time and space. Heady stuff! In literature and the moving image, these concerns tend to manifest most profoundly in science fiction, dark fantasy, and the horror and Weird traditions, where seekers of strange, esoteric knowledge are marked—often severely—for their burning curiosity. The course will be organized around explorations of key concepts and topics relating to the search for secret knowledge, including 1) elusive, unknowable, and undecipherable knowledge; 2) guarded or forbidden knowledge; 3) existential dread in the face of unlimited knowledge; and 4) shocking speculations that reality is an illusion, or delusion, based upon an imprisoning perspectivism.

The reading for the course will adhere broadly to the speculative science-fiction, dark fantasy, and Weird-horror traditions. Novels we may explore include Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, and Phillip K. Dick’s Valis. Films and TV works that we may explore include The Incredible Shrinking Man, Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and episodes of the pseudoscience TV series In Search of …. The course will also feature short fiction by authors such as Thomas Ligotti, Ursula K. LeGuin, Japan’s Edogawa Rampo (and his American namesake Edgar Allan Poe), Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, and Herman Hesse.

Don’t Go There: Trespassing, Transgression, and Taboo in Literature and Film

  • Tuesday 11h30 – 14h30 and Thursday 11h30 – 14h30
  • Dr. Jay Shea (Eng 101 ICE – Introduction to College English) and Rebecca Million (Eng 103 Literary Themes)

The places we’re not allowed to enter, the words we dare not speak, the acts we say we would never commit. Taboos (at least universal ones) repel us, and yet we are perversely curious about them. In this class we’ll go beyond the threshold of the unknown and off-limits into forbidden forests and locked rooms. We’ll use insights from anthropology, psychoanalysis, and myth criticism to examine cultural and literary preoccupations with transgressions including cannibalism, incest, and necromancy. We’ll ponder our repulsion and attraction to what lies behind our psyches and beyond the pale of our civilizing social norms. This course is a journey into the dark places of our nature, where we come up against the very boundaries of what makes us human; but here we will also peer into the sacred, the spaces where we might encounter the sublime or divine.

Possible fictions for this course include: original folk and fairytales and Angela Carter’s modern, feminist retellings in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber; ancient myth and drama including selections from The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, and Othello; Gothic tales, including Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; and 20th-century horror films such as Carrie and Night of the Living Dead.

La quête du réel : survol de la pensée critique et introduction à la littérature québécoise contemporaine /
Searching for the Real : A survey of critical theory and an introduction to contemporary Québécois literature

  • Monday 8h00 – 12h00 and Wednesday 8h30 – 11h30
  • Julian Nemeth (Hum 101 Knowledge) and Christian Paré (Français 103A)

À travers un corpus contemporain essentiellement québécois, nous nous intéresserons à l’introduction de référents réels dans les récits fictionnels, c’est-à-dire ceux qui ne relèvent ni de l’autofiction ni de l’autobiographique. Ces « fictions du réel » se présentent souvent sous des formes variées, hybrides, allant de la biographie à l’histoire en passant par le fait divers. Tour à tour, nous étudierons Anima de Wajdi Mouawad, Artefact de Carl Leblanc, De synthèse de Karine Georges et Nanimissuat Île-tonnerre de Natasha Kanapé Fontaine. De plus, sous l’angle de l’appropriation du réel, nous visionnerons trois films d’auteur : À ceux qui ne me lisent pas de Yan Giroux, Tuktuq de Robin Aubert et Le commun des mortels d’Éric Leblanc .

Complementing the French section of the seminar, the Humanities component explores the tangled relationship between reality and fantasy from the vantage point of critical theory. In everyday life, we draw a sharp distinction between reality and fantasy. Critical theory, however, examines the way that ideological fantasies—such as those centered around race, class, and gender—powerfully shape our perceptions of reality. In turn, a study of fantasy, particularly as depicted in works of literature and cinema, may reveal truths that a society prefers to ignore. Our seminar will lead us through classic approaches to the questions developed by the ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, through to the contemporary lenses of psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, and Indigenous theory. As we apply these theories to contemporary Québécois culture, we will constantly ask whether there is a “real” beyond reality. If so, how might we describe this “real”? And how might it be revealed through works of art?

Questions? Contact Michael Duckett, Reflections co-ordinator: by Omnivox or

Last Modified: May 10, 2019