Wolf Like Me: Contagion in American Literature
This course is no longer being offered.
When American indie rock vocalist Tunde Adebimpe sang in his hit single “Wolf Like Me” about “the curse we cannot lift” he echoed a cultural fascination, and uneasiness, with shifting identity categories and forms of communal belonging. In American popular culture, anxieties around racial, ethnic, and cultural identity are frequently coded as forms of monstrosity, transfiguration, or infection. This course will trace this phenomenon in American literature, and examine the tendency to connect shifting and uncertain forms of identity to physical pathologies (and vice versa) in post-war American literary and cultural production. This course will situate such cultural narratives of contagion within the broader context of popular culture’s fascination with infectious agents like werewolves, vampires, and zombies. By comparing the uses of contagious imagery in both high and low culture, we will chart the emergence and elaboration of the trope of the human carrier"a figure that is paradoxically dangerous as well as delicate"and query how this ambivalence is reflected in post-war literary configurations of changing racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.
This class will pair literature with pop culture"taking short stories or excerpts from authors like Ralph Ellison, Louise Erdrich, John Edgar Wideman, Colson Whitehead, and reading them alongside television shows and films like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and comic book series like The Walking Dead. In so doing, this course will examine tropes of contagion as they emerge through both high and low culture. How is the contraction and transmission of the carrier's “disease” handled in these texts? What is the significance of the carrier’s function as purveyor of both socio-biological promise and destruction?
In addressing these questions, students will develop a set of interpretive techniques invaluable for forming critical reading and writing practices, sharpening their skills in classroom discussion, written analysis, and essay preparation. By maneuvering between text and context, form and content, this course will prepare students for a wide range of college-level humanities courses.