English 2020-05

Themes in Literature and Culture: The Grotesque


Spring 2015 | TR 100-225, PH 308

Office Hours: M: 1000-1200 am; 100-300 pm; 300-400 pm by appointment; T: 900-1200; 230-400 pm; Th: 900-1200; 230-400 pm


About David Lavery | Course Policies and Procedures | Course Requirements | Class Members | Agenda | The Grotesque Website | Readings/Websites | Power Points |   Things to be Aware of When Writing Your Essays | The Grotesque Blog | Website Assignments | Model Student Essay | In-Class Final Study Sheet: In Word | In PDF | Composite (in PDF) of all the Power Points | Take Home-Final


Dr. David Lavery

Office PH 316A | E-mail david.lavery@mtsu.edu | Office Phone/Voice-Mail 615-898-5648 | Home Page http//davidlavery.net/

Dr. David Lavery is Director of Graduate Studies and Professor in the English Department at Middle Tennessee State University (1993- ). The recipient of the University's 2006 Distinguished Research Award, he is the author of over one hundred and fifty published essays, chapters, and reviews and the author / co-author / editor / co-editor of twenty-two books, including Joss Whedon, A Creative Portrait From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Avengers, TV Goes to Hell An Unofficial Road Map of Supernatural, The Essential Cult Television Reader, and The Essential Sopranos Reader. The co-convener of international conferences on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the work of Joss Whedon and The Sopranos; co-founder of the Whedon Studies Association and its journal Slayage and founding editor of Critical Studies in Television, he has lectured around the world on the subject of television (Australia, Turkey, the UK, Portugal, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany), been a guest/source for the BBC, NPR, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The New York Times, A Folha de Sao Paulo (Brazil), Publica (Portugal), Information (Netherlands), AP, The Toronto Star, USA Today, and from 2006-2008 taught film and television at Brunel University in London. He has written about and taught courses on the grotesque since an M.A. course on the subject at St. Cloud State University in 1972.




(Hereafter GT.)

Project Gutenburg Version


(Hereafter ML.)


(Hereafter PWD.)


(Hereafter CS.)


(Hereafter GCI)

Philip Thomson, The Grotesque
Available online



Class Members

Sydney Abbott | Robby Adkisson | Ashley Blair | Garrison Breckenridge | Emily Charles | Emily Cunningham | Brooklyn Duncan | Lauren Fick | Shelby Fox | Carly Johnson | Daniel Johnson | Tiarra Johnson | Russel Legreid III | Erin Levins | Lindsey Medford | Austin Moncivaez | Denis Nackley | Christina Schwarz | Bijan Sepehr | Jimmy Smith 

Course Policies and Procedures

Class format: We will follow a lecture / discussion format during most class meetings. Power Points will be used in almost all class meetings and will be available for reviewing on the website (see the links below). A substantial portion of class time will be spent screening and discussing various films and television shows.

Manuscript form: All written assignments must be word-processed and submitted as Microsoft Word or Rich Text e-mail attachments submitted via the D2L drop boxes for each assignment. Please name the file with your own last name (for example: lavery.doc).

Essay Evaluation: I will evaluate your essays using a grading scale which can be found here. Reading assignments: You are responsible for having read the entirety of each reading assignment. See the agenda below.

Participation & involvement: Please come prepared for each day’s class. I encourage you to become an active participant in class discussion and to ask constructive and meaningful questions at all times.

Attendance: Regular attendance is essential to the ongoing progress of the course. Two absences will be permitted. A third absence may result in the loss of a letter grade. A fourth absence may result in failure of the course.

Inclement Weather Policy: Go here.

Plagiarism / Cheating: The unacknowledged use of the words / ideas / insights / original research of another is, of course, prohibited. Should I catch you plagiarizing, or cheating in any way, you will receive a grade of "0" on the assignment in question, the violation may be reported to University authorities, and you may fail the course.

Lottery Scholarships: Do you have a lottery scholarship?  To retain Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship eligibility, you must earn a cumulative TELS GPA of 2.75 after 24 and 48 attempted hours and a cumulative TELS GPA of 3.0 thereafter. You may qualify with a 2.75 cumulative GPA after 72 attempted hours (and subsequent semesters), if you are enrolled full-time and maintain a semester GPA of at least 3.0.  A grade of C, D, F, FA, or I in this class may negatively impact TELS eligibility. Dropping or stopping attendance in a class may also impact eligibility; if you withdraw from or stop attending this class and it results in an enrollment status of less than full time, you may lose eligibility for your lottery scholarship. Lottery recipients are eligible to receive the scholarship for a maximum of five years from the date of initial enrollment, or until reaching 120 TELS attempted hours or earning a bachelor degree.  For additional Lottery rules, please refer to your Lottery Statement of Understanding form (http://www.mtsu.edu/financial-aid/forms/LOTFOD.pdf) or contact your MT One Stop Enrollment Counselor (http://www.mtsu.edu/one-stop/counselor.php).

Students with Disabilities: Any student with a disability will be given all the rights and privileges guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act if he/she is registered with the Disability and Access Center. University Writing Center: At The University Writing Center (now located in the Walker Library), sponsored by the English Department and staffed by full-time and adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants, you can get constructive help with a variety of writing problems, from pre-writing to organization to grammatical errors. (Please be aware, however, that the UWC does not do proofreading.)

Grading Scale: 90-99%=A | 80-89%=B | 70-79%=C | 60-69%=D | 0-59%=F


Course Requirements

Project 1: Either (A) A critical essay: a 1000 word reading/analysis/interpretation of a course reading(s), painting(s), photograph(s), or viewing(s); or (B) a 1000 word review of one of the books or movies catalogued here [go here to learn more about how to do a book/film review]; or (C) a non-traditional project approved by me (for example: a website, power point/prezi presentation, video, etc.)—25% of course grade. [See Agenda for due dates.]

Project 2: A source paper of not less than 1250 words on some aspect of the grotesque approved by me (go here to find a suggestive list of possible topics).—30% of course grade. [See Agenda for due dates.]

A take-home essay final exam, in which you will write two 750 word essays on your choice from ten possible topics supplied by me.—25% of course grade,

An in-class cognitive-memory final exam: a matching test on authors, artists, terms, directors, titles, etc., covering the entire course.—20% of course grade.


Power Points

The Absurd | Diane Arbus | Arcimboldo | Bakhtin | Francis Bacon | The Bizarre | Black Humor | Hieronymous Bosch | Pieter Bruegel, the Elder | Tim Burton | Caricature | Celebrity Death Match | The Comic | David Cronenberg | Dada & Surrealism | Salvadore Dali | Otto Dix | James Ensor | The Fantastic | The Far Side | William Faulkner | Federico Fellini | Francisco Goya | George Grosz | Grand GuignolHBO and the Television Grotesque | Frida Kahlo | Lysistrata & Commedia dell'arte | The Macabre | Rene Magritte | Medieval_Renaissance | Movies | Helmut Newton  | Flannery O'Connor | People of WalmartPatti Smith | Ren and Stimpy | Surrealism & Dada | Jonathan Swift | Syllabus | Theory | Amos Tutuola | Mark Twain | The Uncanny | Nathanael West


Readings | Websites

Bierce, Devil's Dictionary | Browning, "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" | Charting the Evolution of Caricature | Colbert Does Swift | Grass, "Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech" | Kafka, "A Hunger Artist" | Kafka, "A Country Doctor" | Mark Hardin's ArtchiveBacon | Bosch | Bruegel | Campbell’s Monomyth | Dali | Goya | Hogarth | Kahlo | Magritte | Museum of the Macabre | Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel | Rabelais Slide Show | "Into the Uncanny Valley" (Seed) | Sterne, Tristram Shandy | Stevens, "A Word for Jose Rodriguez-Feo" | Swift, "A Modest Proposal" | Swift, "The Lady's Dressing Room" | Swift, "Description of a City Shower" | Swift, Gulliver's Travels | Twain, "1601" | Twain, "The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg" | Twain, from Letters from the Earth | Wikipedia Entry on "The Uncanny Valley"




Week 1 Meeting—1 | Date—1/20/15 | Subject—Introduction to the Course: Diane Arbus | The People of Walmart

Meeting—2 | Date—1/22/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in Theory |  Reading(s)—Bakhtin | Anderson | Kayser | Thompson: 1 Introduction 2 The Term and Concept 'Grotesque': A Historical Summary 3 Towards a Definition | Stevens

Week 2 Meeting—3 | Date—1/27/15 | Subject—Grotesque in Other Modes: The Comic | Lysistrata & Commedia dell'arte | The Comic | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—1. Grotesquerie | Reading(s)—Thompson: The Comic

Meeting—4 | Date—1/29/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in Painting (I) (Hieronymous Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, Giuseppe Arcimboldo)

Week 3 Meeting—5 | Date—2/3/15 | Subject—Grotesque in Other Modes: The Macabre & Bizarre | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—2. Groteskology | Reading(s)—Sections in Thomson: The Macabre & Bizarre

Meeting—6 | Date—2/5/15 | Subject—Grotesque in Other Modes: The Uncanny & Fantastic | Reading(s)—Sections in Thomson: The Uncanny & Fantastic

Week 4 Meeting—7 | Date—2/10/15 | Subject—Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels and "A Modest Proposal"  | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—3. Monsters and Grotesque | Reading(s)—"The Lady's Dressing Room," Description of a City Shower," "A Modest Proposal"

Meeting—8 | Date—2/12/15 | Subject—Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels and "A Modest Proposal" | Caricature | Satire | Reading(s)—"Lilliput," "Brobdingnag," Laputa," "Houyhnhnms" (GT) | Project Gutenburg Version of Gulliver

Week 5 Meeting—9 | Date—2/17/15 | Subject—Mark Twain & the Grotesque | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—4. Grotesque Bodies | Reading(s)—"1601," "Little Bessie Would Assist Providence," "The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut," Letters from the Earth

Meeting—10 | Date—2/19/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in Painting (II): William Hogarth, Francisco Goya, James Ensor

Week 6 Meeting—11 | Date—2/24/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in Painting (III): Dada & Surrealism | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—5. Disharmony and Agression

Meeting—12 | Date—2/26/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in Painting (IV): Otto Dix, Francis Bacon [The Art of Francis Bacon], Frida Kahlo

Week 7 Meeting—13 | Date—3/3/15 | Class Cancelled

Meeting—14 | Date—3/5/15 | MTSU Cancelled

3/9-3/14/15: Spring Break (No Class)

Week 8 Meeting—15 | Date—3/17/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in Other Modes: Black Humor | Nathanael West & the Grotesque | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—6. Attraction/Repulsion | Reading(s)—Miss Lonelyhearts (MLH)

Meeting—16 | Date—3/19/15 | Subject—Nathanael West & the Grotesque | Reading(s)—Day of the Locust (MLH) | Requirements—Either Project 1 or 2 due by this date.

Week 9 Meeting—16 | Date—3/24/15 | Subject—Amos Tutuola & the Grotesque | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—7. Laughter and Grotesque | Reading(s)—The Palm-Wine Drinkard (PW)

Meeting—17 | Date—3/26/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in the Movies

Week 10 Meeting—17 | Date—3/31/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in the Movies: Fellini | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—8. Queerly Grotesque

Meeting—18 | Date—4/2/15 | Subject—The Grotesue in the Movies: Fellini (continued)

Week 11 Meeting—19 | Date—4/7/15 | Screening: The Triplets of Belleville | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—9. Postcolonial Grotesque  

Meeting—20 | Date—4/9/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in the Movies: The Coen Brothers

Week 12 Meeting—21 | Date—4/14/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in the Movies: David Cronenberg | Grotesque: New Critical Idiom—Conclusion: Global Grotesque

Meeting—22 | Date—4/16/15 | Subject—The Grotesque in Popular Culture: An Introduction | The Far Side | Patti Smith | Reading: "Aesop After Darwin: The Radical Anthropomorphism of The Far Side"

Week 13 Meeting—23 | Date—4/21/15 | Subject—Flannery O'Connor & the Grotesque | Reading(s)—"Good Country People," "A Good Man is Hard to Find" (CS)

Meeting—24 | Date—4/23/15 | Subject—Flannery O'Connor & the Grotesque | Reading(s)—"Everything That Rises Must Converge," "Revelation" (CS) | Requirements—Take Home Final Available on This Date

Week 14 Meeting—25 | Date—4/28/15 | Subject—HBO and the Television Grotesque | Celebrity Death Match, Ren and Stimpy | Reading(s)—"It's Not Grotesque, It's HBO, and Showtime, Too"

Date—4/30/15 | No Class | Requirements—Either Project 1 or 2 due in the appropriate D2L drop box by the end of the day.

5/1-5/7/15: Final Exam Week | Requirements—Take Home Final: Due by the end of the day May 5; In-Class Final: Thursday, May 7, 100-300 pm.