'Monstrous' Developments on Campus

Article excerpt

Walk the aisles of bookstores or watch movie previews and you will notice an overwhelming number of vampires, werewolves, and zombies. College course catalogues are beginning to reflect this fascination.

At Ohio University, history professor Benita Blessing teaches a course entitled "Vampires in Myth and History." In "Lust for the Vampire," a Dec. 20, 2009, article for The Times of London "Higher Education" section, Jon Marcus lists English professor Richard Androne's class on "The Vampyre" at Albright College and Elizabeth Richmond-Garza's "Art of the Uncanny" at University of Texas at Austin, plus a course on Satan in film and visual arts at College of the Atlantic, not to mention one at Texas Tech University entitled "The Vampire in East European and Western Culture."

"Buffy Studies" (stemming from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1992 movie and 1997 TV series) is a full-fledged academic phenomenon. The Wikipedia entry includes an academic journal called Slayage: The Online Journal of Buffy Studies, a number of scholarly books on vampires, and even a vampire-focused master's degree program in "Cult Film and TV" at Brunei University, London; begun in fall 2006, it's billed as the first postgraduate degree of its kind.

In a March 8, 2009, Washington Post article, reporter Ron Charles notes that vampire-related books dominate the bestseller lists at college bookstores across the U.S.; "on today's college campuses, you're more likely to hear a werewolf howl than Allen Ginsberg," he wryly observes. April marked the "Open Graves, Open Minds: Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture" conference at University of Hertfordshire (England), which launches a master's module in vampire fiction this fall. And this issue of Phi Kappa Phi Forum arrives just in time for the eighth annual "Monsters and the Monstrous" multidisciplinary conference (Sept. 19-22) at University of Oxford, no less.

Why the interest in things monstrous? Explanations range from attempts to make literature more engaging for a generation of students raised on Harry Potter, the Twilight series, and True Blood, to sociological theories of alienation and xenophobia in a post-9/11 world, to the Freudian concepts of catharsis and the unheimlich (German for the uncanny).

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Quoted in Amy Leaf's March 14 Chronicle of Higher Education article titled "See Jane Bite," Our Vampires, Ourselves author Nina Auerbach claims that "every age embraces the vampire it needs." Modern monsters, particularly vampires, are beautiful, seductive and exotic. Their victims are special or chosen. That may explain the bestselling mash-up novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from last year, in which Seth Grahame-Smith adds zombies to Jane Austen's 1813 original and gives us powerful female characters imbued with the special strength and abilities only the undead possess. …