Specters of Modernity
Supernatural Fictions in the Age of Reason
Professor Raechel Dumas
Who speaks for the past? After all, the project of modernity has centered largely on manufacturing a break with history, deploying the rhetoric of freedom, reason, and progress to suggest the possibility of liberation from religious and political authority, folk traditions, and cultural conventions. Nevertheless, specters continue to haunt the modern imagination, routinely surfacing as reminders that the repressed remains a vital force in the present, however much we might yearn to leave it behind. This course explores the phenomenon of haunting across modern literature, film, visual arts, and real-world geographical locales, with emphasis on how narratives produced at different historical moments and in different places across the globe similarly deploy specters to engage with significant historical phenomena and cultural developments. In particular, it focuses on counter-Enlightenment impulses in the transnational Gothic imagination; psychological repression and the spectral uncanny; specters of national trauma; and the postmodern horror trope of the “ghost in the machine.” In considering these topics, students will evaluate and utilize diverse theoretical frameworks—provided by thinkers such as Michael Mayerfeld Bell, Sigmund Freud, Julia Kristeva, and Bracha Ettinger, among others—for thinking about the enduring place of specters in the collective imagination.