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THE CASE OF THE OCCULT DETECTIVE

The Case of the Occult Detective: Supernatural Investigators & Paranormal Explorations in Popular Culture                                 
Maria DeBlassie, PhD                            
deblassiem@unm.edu
Core: Writing and Speaking

 

COURSE DESCRIPTION

This 200-level course examines the origins and significance of the occult detective, an archetype birthed from the Spiritualism movement and the parallel invention of detective fiction in the Victorian Era.  This figure—sometimes a literal investigator and other times an average person trying to grapple with strange or uncanny experiences—is frequently used in contemporary culture as a way to simultaneously contain or demystify the unknown and acknowledge its vastness.  It seems like no small coincidence that the occult detective manifests himself (for he is a primarily white male figure) in direct contrast to—or as a result of—Post-Enlightenment Era's emphasis on reason.  What then, is the place or purpose of the paranormal in a post-industrial, post-enlightenment world of logic?

This interdisciplinary course draws on studies in popular culture, psychology, and art and literary criticism to offer a rounded investigation on the cultural phenomena of the occult detective. We will explore this social tension—wanting to make the paranormal normal while at the same time seeking to make the mundane magical—as well as how this subgenre unmasks the dark side of social conventions, psychological oppression, and society's unrelenting desire to make the intangible tangible. Lastly, we will critically engage with our own lives in New Mexico—and beliefs about the supernatural—as their own texts.  Through this, students will learn how to think critically about pop culture, their lives, and the importance of examining texts through multiple lenses.

READINGS AND TEXTS

Short Texts:

Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's "Green Tea" (1869)

H.G. Wells's "The Red Room" (1896)

Kate Prichard and Major Hesketh Hesketh-Prichard's "The Story of Baelbrow" (1898)

I.T. Mead and Robert Eustace's "The Dead Hand" (1902)

Algernon Blackwood's "A Psychical Invasion" (1908)

William Hope Hodgson's "The Gateway of the Monster" (1913)

Freud’s “The Uncanny” (1919)

Agatha Christie’s “The Hound of Death” (1933)

Jung’s “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious” (1936)

Excerpts from La Llorona: Encounters with the Weeping Woman (2004)

Justin Gustanis’s “Deal Breaker” (2011)

Simon R. Green’s “The Spirit of the Thing” (2011)

Carrie Vaughn’s “Defining Shadows” (2011)

Tanya Huff’s “See Me” (2011)

Daniel Jose Older’s “Magdelena” (2012)

Excerpts from La Llorona… (2012)

Joe Hayes’s “La Llorona” (nd)

Longer Texts:

Hellblazer Original Sin, Graphic Novel (1994)

Jim Butcher’s Welcome to the Jungle (2008)

Dead to the World (iZombie) (2011)

FILMS AND OTHER COURSE MATERIALS

Art and Visual Culture:

Selected Victorian Postmortem & Spirit Photographs (1800s)

Selected Representations of La Calavera Catrina by local artists

Movies:

Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters (2016)

Television Episodes:

The X-Files, “Pilot” (S1E1, 1993)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (S1E1, 1998), “The Harvest” (S1E2, 1998), &“Hush” (S4E10, 1999)

Supernatural, “Pilot” (S1E1, 2005),“Ghostfacers” (S3E13, 2008), & “The Real Ghostbusters” (E5E9, 2009)

Sleepy Hollow, “Pilot” (S1E1, 2013)

iZombie, "Pilot" (S1E1, 2015) & “Method Head” (S2E10, 2016)

Lucifer, “Pilot (S1E1, 2016)

Dirk Gently, “Horizons” (S1E1, 2016)

COURSE FEE (if applicable) & BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF HOW FEES WILL BE USED

None

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

Students will be required to attend class regularly and be prepared for active participation and discussion of course texts.  In addition to active participation and assigned readings, assignments include daily short in-class activities and exercises; a short oral presentation and guided discussion on a particular topic or reading for class; two 2-4 page analytical essays on given texts; and a final group presentation project.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Maria DeBlassie earned her B.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNM.  She went on to earn both her M.A. and Ph.D. in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Literature from the University of Washington.  She is currently full-time faculty at CNM and, when not teaching there or part-time at the UNM Honors College, is writing and blogging about everyday magic and mysticism.  Her scholarly interests include the playful tension between high and low art, literature, and culture; contemporary romanticization of history; interdisciplinary and intercultural education; and things that go bump in the night.