A Look Toward the Future: Post-Apocalypse and the DLR

by Kathryn Hampshire

Dr. Adam Beach, Chairperson for the Department of English at Ball State University, was one of the key players in starting the Digital Literature Review (DLR) in 2013, and he served as its faculty mentor again the following year; he will be rejoining the staff next year, this time with the theme of Post-Apocalypse. Recently, Dr. Beach sat down with Kathryn Hampshire, the teaching assistant for the DLR this year, to talk about his plans for next year’s journal.

Kathryn Hampshire: How did you first get involved with the Digital Literature Review?

Dr. Adam Beach: My colleague Dr. Debbie Mix and I came up with the idea together and wrote the proposal five years ago. We had this idea that we wanted to have an undergraduate journal in literature. We really felt like we needed to take some steps to give our students professional experiences, to get them writing for public audiences, and to decenter the classroom in a way that would give them more autonomy over the scholarship they were doing and the kinds of projects that they were working on. So that was our original idea.

KH: Since you taught it the first and second years, how did you become the instructor for the project for next year?

AB: We don’t have a real system in place, but people volunteer to teach it, and I thought it would be fun to teach it again. In the future, we want to get more people teaching it.. We have some younger faculty who I think want to teach it in the future, so we’re going to try to keep rotating it and get as many literature faculty involved as we can.

KH: How did you select the theme for this year’s issue?

AB: I’ve been reading so much post-apocalyptic fiction, and I know that a lot of students are interested in it. There’s also a lot of young adult literature around focused on apocalyptic themes, so I thought it would be a really cool topic and timely given everything that’s going on in the world today. I’m excited to investigate this topic further, and I think that a lot of students are as well. I tend to read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction because I think it’s speaking to a lot of anxieties that people have, and really have had, since at least the advent of the nuclear age. Although, this year I read Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, which was published in the early nineteenth century, which I think is considered to be one of the first post-apocalyptic fictions. So, I think there’s something about modern life that creates these anxieties about our future, and this literary form has been a way to deal with and manage those anxieties—or exacerbate them. I think especially now, given everything going on in our world and our country, people have a lot of anxiety, and so there’s been even more of an upsurge of this form, so I think it’s a good time to be exploring it and thinking about it.

KH: What kind of theoretical basis will you be using for this year’s class?

AB: We’ll be reading different theoretical work about different modes of apocalypse: of course, there’s religious apocalypses from the Book of Revelations, to more technological ones like The Matrix films, to even more fantastical ones like alien invasions and zombies. So, we will explore the different kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction and film, but we will also be thinking sociologically about why certain texts are popular at any given moment.  What does a text’s popularity say about a particular culture or a particular historical period in any society? Why are readers and viewers gravitating toward these texts? And I think we will also examine the psychoanalysis of reading: if we talk about anxiety, that gets us into psychoanalysis. How does fiction create anxiety, or maybe assuage anxiety, or help us manage anxiety? Going back to Aristotle, there’s the notion of catharsis, that we go to read and see really tragic action, and it kind of makes us feel better afterward. I’m really curious about that—does post-apocalyptic fiction help us manage anxiety, or is it actually creating a lot more anxiety in our society? I’m not sure what I think about that, but I want to explore these questions with the students.

KH: What else can students who sign up for the class expect?

AB: I think they’re going to have a great intellectual experience, and they’re going to develop an expertise in post-apocalyptic literature. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun: we’re going to learn a lot, and we’re going to be talking about things that are really relevant and really popular right now. I always think it’s good for us to think critically and really hard about what’s going on in our popular fiction and popular culture. But then they’re also going to get a ton of professional experience, getting to have leadership on the Editorial Team, the Publicity Team, and the Design Team, to have ownership over the project and to really be able to say, “I created that,” or, “I made that decision,” or, “I helped design that journal.” They’re going to get a lot of experience that will help them with job interviews. It’ll help them get their resumes in good shape, and it’ll give them experience that will be relevant throughout their professional lives. In the past when I’ve taught this class, I’ve never seen students work harder or accomplish more, and really grow, not just in terms of where they’re at, not just academically and intellectually, but also as people and as budding professionals, and that’s what our goal is.

KH: For any of our readers who are thinking about submitting for this edition of the journal, what kinds of submissions are you hoping to see?

AB: There’s just so much, there’s an endless variety: animated films, young adult fiction, fiction, movies. From Mary Shelley on, we have a ton of examples, and there’s just so much new post-apocalyptic fiction coming out. So I think it’s a great opportunity for students to do research projects and publish on works that really haven’t been studied very much, and that’s always exciting if you’re one of the first people to write an article about a new film or a new book that’s come out in the last ten years. I think that’s really exciting academically: to be able to put your voice out there and give a reading on the text right at the initial stages of when it’s starting to be studied.

KH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AB: I just have so much fun with the DLR. It’s the coolest teaching thing I’ve ever done—and the hardest. I think that a lot of the students would say it’s one of the hardest academic experiences they’ve ever taken on, but also one of the most satisfying. I always tell students how, since I graduated from college 25 years ago, the main things I remember now are the challenges, the classes and the professors that challenged me the most. Those are the things that I remember, and I’m pretty sure that students will remember the DLR 20 or 25 years after they graduate because it’s such a great and such an intense experience, but I think that it’s so worth it, and I hope that we can keep it going.

Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock Explains Vampire Suicide

by Troi Watts

 

Were you excited for Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock’s talk on Vampire Suicide but just couldn’t make it to the lecture? Did you attend but wish you knew even more? No need to be disappointed anymore as you can read all about it right here! Dr. Weinstock came all the way from Central Michigan University to enlighten Ball State students on why vampires commit suicide. This lecture was actually a sort of rehearsal for Dr. Weinstock as he explained that it will be the keynote address at the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival in Romania. Anyone who was in attendance can tell you that his rehearsal was so well-done that it’s sure to be successful at the festival.

Dr. Jeffrey Weinstock has been an English professor at Central Michigan University since 2001, teaching a variety of courses that cover American literature and pop culture topics. A native to Washington, D.C. and Maryland, Dr. Weinstock completed his undergraduate education in English at the University of Pennsylvania, his graduate education in American Literature at George Washington University, and stayed on at George Washington University to complete his PhD. He has published numerous books and essays and has received various awards for his work. For example, his latest publication, The Age of Lovecraft, was the co-winner of the 2016 Ray & Pat Browne Award for Best Edited Collection in Popular Culture and American Culture. Needless to say, Dr. Weinstock has worked long and hard to become an expert in all things gothic.

But where did Dr. Weinstock’s interest in monsters begin? I took the time to ask him this and other questions in an email after the lecture. In his own words, he has always had an interest in “the dark side.” Even as a kid, he loved spooky stories, which presumably introduced him to his favorite monster (“if you can call them that”): ghosts! His interest in ghosts drove him to write his doctoral dissertation on the “issue of spectrality” and his first book on how American women in the nineteenth and early twentieth century wrote ghost stories as a form of social commentary.

When asked why he decided to give a lecture on vampire suicide, Dr. Weinstock explained that he was asked to be a part of a collaboration for an upcoming book, Suicide and the Gothic, edited by Andrew Smith and Bill Hughes. When he was considering what particular subject he could discuss, vampires popped into his head. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but he couldn’t stop thinking about them and the fact that vampires in films commit or contemplate suicide frequently. This is in line with the usual process he goes through to pick a topic. He typically starts with a question or problem of some sort and uses strong primary sources to research that question or problem. For example, when coming up with the topic of vampire suicide, Dr. Weinstock asked himself, “[W]hy do vampires commit suicide with such regularity?” and researched from there. Of course, a key component to this process is whether or not the topic interests him (I mean, who wants to research something that bores them?). Vampires absolutely fall under the “interesting” category.

Dr. Weinstock’s lecture started with a general breakdown of the main reasons that vampires contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide in films and literature: out of remorse, ennui (a French term for “boredom”), or heroism. From there on Dr. Weinstock discussed each point in-depth, providing examples from pop culture to demonstrate his points.

Regarding remorse, he said that sometimes vampires cannot come to terms with the monster that they have become, finding the fact that they must drink blood in order to survive to be evil or immoral. Varney the vampire, from the series by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, displays this aspect; Varney throws himself into Mount Vesuvius in an act of suicide because he could no longer tolerate what he had become and wanted to end his existence.

Ennui is centered around the idea that vampires feel as if they can do basically anything they want and, being immortal, have plenty of time on their hands. But what happens when they get tired of partying and living? They turn to suicide. The example of Adam from Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive was used in this section of the lecture. Adam, being several centuries old, has become bored with and can no longer tolerate life. He has lost interest in going into the outside world due to the fact that he dislikes what humans have done to it. He contemplates suicide (going so far as to have a wooden bullet made so that he may shoot himself) for these reasons.

Heroism was the final motivation for vampire suicide discussed by Dr. Weinstock. In certain situations, vampires may take it upon themselves to give their lives in order to save the people they care about (usually humans). To better demonstrate this aspect, Dr. Weinstock brought up the movie, 30 Days of Night by David Slade. In this film, a town in Alaska is invaded by vampires, leading Eben Oleson to become a vampire in order to protect his wife, Stella. Once the battle is over and the vampires have fled, Eben stands in the sunlight in order to kill himself as he does not want to become the monster that the other vampires were.

Despite the fact that they are monsters, vampires have a wide range of emotions and motivations that could eventually lead them to contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide. Not all vampires have evil intentions. Some are remorseful at the knowledge of what they have become, while others become heroes and protect humans. As Dr. Weinstock has shown, even the ones who are just trying to enjoy their immortality have it rough.

Works Cited

Weinstock, Jeffrey. Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, PhD.                                                                              https://www.jeffreyandrewweinstock.com/   Accessed 19 April 2017.

Weinstock, Jeffrey. “Re: Questions for the DLR Blog Post.” Received by Troi Watts, 8 April         2017.

Weinstock, Jeffrey. “Vampire Suicide.” DLR Presents, The Digital Literature Review, 31            March 2017, Ball State University, Muncie, IN.

 

 

Monster Poetry with Brian Morrison

by Keith Jackson

If you were one of the unlucky ones that missed the Digital Literature Review’s monster poetry reading, you can still read about it here! The reading featured Ball State English Department’s very own Brian Morrison and his manuscript of poems on monsters. He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Ball State University. He agreed to be the star of this semester’s first “DLR Presents” reading, a themed event held once or twice every year, showcasing professional work from Ball State and abroad. Our second event was held last Friday (March 31st) with Jeffrey Weinstock, Ph.D. You can expect a blog about Weinstock’s talk on vampires soon!

Before the reading, I asked Morrison a few questions. He discussed his writing process, how he chooses what topics to explore, what his inspirations were for writing monster poetry, and the project he would be reading from. Morrison was very open in his answers, and I have provided a few below. I will discuss the actual reading a bit later on.

Morrison first talked with me about how he approaches a poem. He does not always know what he’s going to write about beforehand, but he focuses on an image, or sometimes a line, to start things off. The poem forms over time,  over the course of two or three drafts. The ones that he read for the DLR were the result of a project he had started a few years ago. He did not know exactly where it was going at first, but he followed the idea of ‘false history,’ which means that he rewrote classic stories or historical moments. For example, he began to rewrite movies, like Frankenstein, in which the creature is a farmer in the Midwest.

After monsters entered Morrison’s life, he never let them leave. Writing has been a way of life for Morrison, and he used it to help cope with a difficult childhood. Writing helped him navigate through life and make sense of how chaotic it can be at times. To some extent, he says he is still doing it now. Like most of us, his love of monsters stems from movies he had watched. When he was a boy, he and his father found common ground in their love of horror films. They both loved the genre and movies like Jaws, Predator, and anything with werewolves. They bonded in this way, watching monster movies. Brian still watches them, and writing about them has been the most fun he has ever had. This passion resonated well with quite a few of his poems.

Right off the top, the very first poem he read reminded me of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, the monster expert, and his seven theses. Though Morrison’s poems explored several ideas, at the forefront was the political climate in America. Cohen’s first theory in particular resonated strongly throughout the entirety of the reading. In the first theory, “The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body,” Cohen says the “monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy (ataractic or incendiary), giving them life and an uncanny dependence” (4). In this way, the monster exists to be read, to reveal, and to warn the reader. The monsters in the first few poems (which work together to convey one cohesive idea) manifest themselves in many ways. For example, in the second poem, fear morphs into a monster Ms. McCready keeps hidden in her basement, bringing it with her to city hall to vote. Though it is easy to blame Ms. McCready for allowing the monster she has only just revealed to influence her ideas, Morrison asks the question, “Can you blame them for caring more about the roads and the children? The taxes and the donors?” The monster Ms. McCready keeps in her basement represents a broader cultural anxiety – the anxiety of a country split into two poles.

Near the end of the reading, Morrison read the poem he had referenced in our discussions – the ‘false history’ poem about Frankenstein’s monster being a farmer in the Midwest. This was perhaps my favorite poem out of the whole collection, partly because of the setting (think rural and cornfields; think Indiana) and partly because this poem was false history. In the poem, which was hilarious and disturbing all at the same time, the monster expresses grief over his unruly appendages and the hard work of tilling a field. The life of a farmer is a lonely one, and Frankenstein’s monster is not devoid of emotion. He longs for friendly connection but knows he is a monster. The townsfolk shun him, consider him “Other,” something that does not belong. The poem closes as Frankenstein disperses his appendages throughout his fields to help the crops grow, ultimately accepting his role as farmer and nothing more.

Whether it is the monster we hide deep within us, the being that controls some of our deepest beliefs, or a twist on a classic story, Morrison’s poems were terrifyingly monstrous. The poems asked us to look within ourselves as a community and as a country. Within them, monsters were created to answer cultural fears and anxieties, to help make sense of the wacky world we live in. “Monsters ask us why we have created them” (Cohen 20). Morrison’s creations asked those in attendance to propose the same question: Why do we love monsters so much?  

 

Work Cited

Cohen, Jeffrey. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Ed. Cohen. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 1996. pp. 3-25.