The Post/human Middle Ages
Prof. Eileen Joy


Thursdays 6:00-8:50 (Peck Hall 0314)

"The monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read: the monstrum is etymologically that which reveals, that which warns, a glyph that seeks a hierophant. Like a letter on the page, the monster signifies something other than itself: it is always a displacement, always inhabits the gap between the time of upheaval that created it and the moment into which it is received, to be born again. These epistemological spaces between the monster's bones are . . . a genetic uncertainty principle, the essence of the monster's vitality, the reason it always rises from the dissection table as its secrets are about to be revealed and vanishes into the night." [from "Monster Culture: Seven Theses," by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen]


This course offers an in-depth examination of the figure of the monstous and demonic in both medieval literature and the contemporary horror film, especially in relation to issues of nation, race, gender, and sexuality. To that end, we will investigate together the many exorbitant dis-figurations of the foreign Other, as well as the idea of monsters and demons as "intimate strangers," in a variety of medieval texts, from travel narratives to epic poetry to saints' lives to Arthurian romance. Through the viewing and analysis of selected horror movies, we will study the ways in which certain medieval tropes of the monstrous and demonic still inhabit (and haunt) modern identity. Following the thinking of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, a scholar of medieval studies who has written extensively on medieval monsters, we will explore the monster as "the abjected fragment that enables the formation of all kinds of identities--personal, national, cultural, economic, sexual, psychological, universal, particular," and therefore, we will also think about the ways in which we define and even defend, through violence, our status as "human" against what we believe is "non-human" and "monstrous."

As this is a graduate seminar-style course, preparing for and participating in class are vitally important to your ultimate success, and therefore, your contribution to in-class discussions as well as your attendance record will be factored into your final grade. Although I will provide much guidance and commentary, the students are essentially the discussion leaders of this course. As this is also a reading-intensive course, not keeping up with the reading could be extremely detrimental to your progress and final evaluation.

REQUIRED TEXTS (available at University Bookstore in Morris University Center)

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Trans. Seamus Heaney. Farar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

Gerald of Wales. The History and Topography of Ireland. Trans. John J. O'Meara. Penguin Classics, 1982.

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Trans. C.R.W.D. Moseley. Penguin Classics, 2005.

Jacobus de Voraigne. The Golden Legand. Trans. Christopher Stace. Penguin Classics, 1998.

*MANY of the readings for the course are literary texts and articles that have been placed on Electronic Course Reserve (these are indicated on "Schedule of Events" below)

**Given the importance of the work of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen to our subject matter, you might also want to occasionally check in on his weblog: In The Middle


1 CRITICAL PAPER, 15-20 pages (60%)

A two-part project: an annotated bibliography and a critical research paper. You are expected to develop your own topic and approaches; introduction of secondary texts, critics, media, and ideas is encouraged. This critical essay should deliver an original critical perspective and argument that takes up a comparative approach between at least one medieval text and one horror film. Ideally, this paper should draw inspiration from the context of intellectual ideas encountered in course readings and class discussion, supplemented by additional secondary research. To help you get started, go here for a working bibliography of sources relevant to the subjects under discussion in this course [and also check our here my short bibliography for primers on critical theory]. [Note: while the medieval text, or texts, chosen for you paper should come from this syllabus, you are not restricted in your choice of film(s) to only those viewed in class; in fact, I encourage each student to explore other films outside of class that are related to the genres of the films we watch in class: monster versus human, demonic possession, the supernatural, and shape-shifting.]


To facilitate class discussion, you will write ONE short response (roughly in the neighborhood of 2 typed pages) to each week's readings. It is up to you to decide which reading (or readings) to respond to, and in what manner. These short reading responses begin on Thursday, January 18th, and no reading response is due on the day you give an oral presentation, nor on the day when the annotated bibliography is due. For more detailed guidelines on these short papers, go here.


You will make ONE oral presentation on one of the additional critical readings. These will be readings that are in addition to those assigned to the entire class each week (they are indicated by an asterisk [*] on the Schedule of Events). These presentations should be prepared to fit within a twenty-minute time scheme, and it would be a good idea to rehearse them ahead of time, and to also have some kind of detailed handout that can be passed out to your fellow students. On the day you give your oral presentation, it is not necessary to write a reading response.


I do not accept late assignments. Period. If there is an extraordinarily good reason for needing an extension on a due date, let me know in advance, and I will be kind.


Attendance, promptness, and participation are essential to success in college courses. Faculty members recognize that unexpected occasions may arise when a student must be absent from class, but my general attendance policy is that if you are absent more than the number of required class sessions per week (in this case, that would be more than 1 session), I have the option of lowering your final course grade by one letter grade for each additional session missed. Furthermore, if absences become excessive (more than two weeks' worth of sessions), the SIUE Registrar, at my request, reserves the right to withdraw you administratively. For more information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Class Attendance Policy. Failure to attend class in a responsible and committed manner may thus be grounds for failure in or administrative withdrawal from the course.


Any student found engaging in an act of academic dishonesty will be promptly dismissed from the course with a grade of "F." By "academic dishonesty," I mean PLAGIARISM (the act of representing the work of another as one's own), which the University considers a grave breach of intellectual integrity. All definitions, terminology, concepts, and patterns of organization taken from an outside source must be identified and given credit in any essay or exam you write--whether it be for the English department or any other department. For more detailed information on this, please consult the following: SIUE Plagiarism Policy.

South Park Satan

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS (subject to revision as semester progresses)

ECR=Electronic Course Reserves/pro bono=for the good of it; read only if you want to, not because you have to

(readings indicated with an asterisk--*--are designated for oral presentations)

Thursday Jan. 11 Introduction to Course
View: Alien (film)
Thursday Jan. 18 <The Archaic/Classical Background>
"Appendix IIIb: Liber monstrorum" (ECR)
Strickland, "Making Men Known By Sight" (ECR)
Friedman, "The Plinian Races" (ECR)
Douglas, "Powers and Dangers" (ECR)
Thursday Jan. 25 <Mapping the "Other" Worlds>
"Appendix Ic: The Wonders of the East" (ECR)
"Appendix IIc: The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle" (ECR)
Campbell, "The Fabulous East: 'Wonder Books' and Grotesque Facts" (ECR)
  Mittman, "Containment and Consumption" (ECR)
  Kristeva, "The Greeks Among the Barbarians" (ECR)
pro bono Mary Beard, "Racism in Greece and Rome"
Thursday Feb. 1 <Beowulf and the Grendelkin>
Beowulf (trans. Seamus Heaney)
Bosworth-Toller Dictionary
Friedman, "Cain's Kin" (ECR)
Cohen, "The Ruins of Identity" (ECR)
Elizabeth W. *Douglas, "External Boundaries" (ECR)
Thursday Feb. 8 <Beowulf and the Grendelkin>
Beowulf (trans. Seamus Heaney)
Lerer, "Grendel's Glove" (ECR)
Cohen, "Monstrous Origin: Body, Nation, Family" (ECR)
Laura R-S. *Creed, "Horror and the Archaic Mother: Alien" (ECR)
Thursday Feb. 15 <Saint Guthlac in the Wilderness>
"The Life of Saint Guthlac by Felix" (ECR)
Maps: Anglo-Saxon England
Cohen, "The Solitude of Guthlac" (ECR)
Strickland, "Demons, Darkness, and Ethiopians" (ECR)
Rumyana H. *Pagels, "Satan's Earthly Kingdom: Christians Against Pagans" (ECR)
Thursday Feb. 22 <Demonic/Other Possession>
View: Stigmata (film)
Clover, "Opening Up" (ECR)
from The Golden Legend: St. Juliana, St. Margaret, St. Theodora, St. Justina
*no response paper this week Elliott, "From Sexual Fantasy to Demonic Defloration" (ECR)
Thursday Mar. 1 <Demons Contined + Monstrous Bodily Fears>
Post-/Trans-Humanism (Nick Bostrom)
Kristeva, "From Filth to Defilement" (ECR)
Kat O. *Creed, "Woman as Possessed Monster: The Exorcist" (ECR)
Thursday Mar. 15 View: An American Werewolf in London (film)
Annotated Bibliography Due
Thursday Mar. 22 <Gerald of Wales>
The History and Topography of Ireland
Cohen, "Hybrids, Borders, Monsterlands: The Bodies of Gerald of Wales" (ECR)
Cohen, "Monster Theory (Seven Theses)" (ECR)
Anna N. *Williams, "The Body Monstrous" (ECR)
Erin V. *Mittman, "The Other Close at Hand: Gerald of Wales and the Marvels of the West" (ECR)
Thursday Mar. 29 <The Werewolf>
    Ovid, excerpt from Metamorphosis (handout)
    Marie de France, "Bisclavret" (ECR)
    Bynum, "Metamorphosis, or Gerald and the Werewolf" (ECR)
    MSN's Guide to Werewolf Movies
  Jaime V. *Bynum, "Shape and Story" (ECR)
Thursday Apr. 5 <The Beast Within--The Chivalric Self>
Chretien de Troyes, "The Knight with the Lion: Yvain" (ECR)
Cohen, "The Body in Pieces: Identity and the Monstrous in Romance" (ECR)
Elizabeth M. *Williams, "Three Heroes"
Thursday Apr. 12 <Mandeville's East>
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Salih, "Idols and Simulacra: Paganity, Hybridity, and Representation in Mandeville's Travels" (ECR)
Verner, "Mandeville's Travels" (ECR)
Thursday Apr. 19 <Mandeville's East>
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Cohen, "Acts of Separation: Shaping Communal Bodies" (ECR)
Tricia Hahn, "The Difference the Middle Ages Make: Color and Race Before the Modern World" (ECR)
Thursday Apr. 26 View: Carrie (film)
    Grant, "Ultimate Formlessness: Cinema, Horror, and the Limits of Meaning" (ECR)
Thursday May 3 (by 5:00 p.m.) Critical Paper Due (essay must be dropped off at my mailbox just outside Peck Hall #3206; if that is impossible, the essay can be emailed to me at: ejoy@siue.edu as a Word/.doc attachment)