Reflections Seminars: Fall 2020

First Semester Students

Inside Out: Adventures in Autotheory

  • Mikaela Bobiy (Humanities) and Rebecca Million (English)
  • Tuesday 11h30 – 14h30 and Thursday 10h30 – 14h30
  • CREDITS: Humanities 345-101 (Knowledge) and English 603-101 (Introduction to College English, ICE)

We understand the world through the lens of our own experience. Autotheory is a genre that recognizes that crucial fact and explores the world of ideas from the inside (autobiography) out, using personal experience as a means of exploring and understanding everything from literature to philosophy to science. But the operation goes the other way too – from the outside in, using theory and ideas to explore and understand one’s own life. From Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel FUN HOME (which became a Broadway play) to the TV series I Love Dick, autotheory has infiltrated pop culture in a big way. Like a many-headed hydra, autotheory is multiplex, combining elements of memoir, critical theory and autobiography, to name a few.  Inside Out: Adventures in Autotheory serves as an introduction to the genre, beginning with its roots in second-wave feminism and visual art (with a particular focus on performance art) and following a through-line across many different disciplines.

In the Humanities portion of the class, students will be introduced to autotheory as a form of knowledge, combining elements of philosophy, psychoanalysis, and autobiography in order to construct, or deconstruct, the subject. In addition to reading works of autotheory, students will be encouraged to engage in their own autobiographical (autotheoretical) writing and other creative projects.

In the English portion we will read and engage in critical analysis (in-class discussion as well as written analysis) of important examples of autotheory, including some that throw fiction into the mix. The best way to learn about something is to do it yourself, so in addition to analyzing texts we will engage in a weekly creative process that will result in students producing their own works of autotheory by the end of the course.

First Semester Students

In Search of Secret Knowledge

  • Greg Polakoff (Humanities) and Kristopher Woofter (English)
  • Tuesday 14h30 – 17h30 and Thursday 14h30 – 18h30
  • CREDITS: Humanities 345-101 (Knowledge) and English 603-101 (Introduction to College English, ICE)

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.

Third Semester Students

Going Viral: Transmission and Containment from Fiction to Philosophy

  • Julian Nemeth (Humanities) and Jay Shea (English)
  • Monday 14h30-17h30 and Wednesday 14h30-17h30
  • CREDITS: Humanities 345-BXH (Ethics) and English 603-103 (Literary Themes)

In this English-Humanities seminar, we will look at literature and film, exploring ideas of contagion from a literary, philosophical, and historical perspective. Going Viral examines our psychological and social responses to “transmission,” in the more familiar sense of “spreading” and “catching” pathogens, but also in the sense of disseminating dangerous ideas and of messaging across media—from cyberspace and radio waves, to waving at our neighbours from the boundaries of isolation. We will explore concepts of “containment,” including notions of the physical body, and the body politic, as container. What do efforts at containing “foreign bodies” reveal about our own fragility and that of the social order? Why is it that fears of pathogens tend to translate into violence against an often racialized “Other”? What do methods and myths of containment, including those centered on suppressing invading “aliens,” multiplying zombies, dangerous and desirable vampires, and flights into mass hysteria reveal about our own psychical and societal dis-ease? Our course examines the literature of contagion and the ethics of containment from ancient, modern, and contemporary worlds. We will learn about the sickening effects of social inequality, but also about the resilience and activism of diverse communities navigating bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS. Readings include literature by Sophocles to Shakespeare, as well as by more recent authors from Susan Sontag to Octavia Butler. Prospective films include Night of the Living Dead, Battle of Algiers, and How to Survive a Plague.

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

Last Modified: May 20, 2020