Ghost Stories: Why the Dead Return and What They Want From Us
Ghost stories haunt our imagination. When the dead return they may scare us or warn us, they may pursue us with violence or burden us with sorrow. They shock us with the "boo" of surprise, just as they frustrate us by their elusiveness. Bloodchilling stories terrify us, but they also provide entertainment. The ghost story is one of the most enduring genres, from classical literature to popular film. Yet behind the door of the story lurk both anxiety and wisdom: anxiety about our own mortality and wisdom about the cultural place of the past, between memory and regret, mourning and forgetting. The undead point to what we have not accomplished, just as they direct us--since the ghost of Hamlet's father--toward deeds. In this seminar, we will explore some of these ghostly ambitions.nDuring the summer, in preparation for the seminar, students will read selected stories and novels and post comments to the course website. When we convene in September, we will discuss the summer findings and proceed to examine a selection of novels that explore ghosts and hauntings. Texts will include Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, Peter Straub's Ghost Story, and others. We will also spend some dark and stormy nights with ghost films and even follow the trail to some hauntings at Stanford and in the Bay Area. Students are expected to participate regularly in the CourseWork discussion forum and work in small groups with other course members to discuss and present readings.