Spooky seminar: French course explores undead

October 29th 2015
Arts & Humanities, Students
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Right in time for Halloween, the Department of French and Italian is unveiling a spooky new course for next semester. Assistant Professor Vlad Dima's "Life After Life" will take students on a tour of the undead, from haunting to horrifying.

"Life After Life: Ghosts, Vampires, Zombies," a large-enrollment seminar, makes its debut this spring. The course, offered as Literature in Translation 272: French Pop Culture, will be conducted in English.

[caption id="attachment_18021" align="alignleft" width="140"]Dima Dima[/caption]

"We would like to draw more students to French and Italian, but offering a large enrollment class in a foreign language would be very hard to do," Dima says. "As the person who works in cinema in my department, I thought something having to do with visual studies in French pop art would really attract students."

Over the course of the semester, students will examine the representation of ghosts, vampires and zombies in literature, cinema and pop culture in order to understand the relationship between the undead and the living.

Dima primarily studies cinema, but the idea of the undead has long been one of his secondary research interests. Considering his Romanian heritage, his fascination with vampires isn't much of a surprise. His parents even named him after Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as "Vlad the Impaler" — the historical inspiration for Dracula.

"I'm speculating that people have a certain, fixed idea of what the undead is: what it looks like in art, what it means, what the metaphors attached to the phenomenon are," Dima says. "I want to open up their eyes to other avenues of interpretation."

The course's syllabus includes 19th- and 20th-century texts like Guy de Maupassant's The Horla, a short horror story, and Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, an existentialist play. It will also cover various periods in cinema, like auteur (Michael Haneke's Amour), New Wave (Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses) and postcolonial (Jean-Pierre Bekolo's Les Saignantes).

In addition, Dima plans to integrate social media — particularly Twitter — into his larger goals for the class. He hopes to encourage participation among students who may not be as comfortable sharing their thoughts in a more traditional setting, as well as cultivate conversation between students and other ghost, vampire and zombie aficionados.

"It's faceless, but not really," Dima says. "It will create a community — even though it's an online community — and it will perhaps involve the larger community in conversation, like other people who have seen those movies and read those books."

The class has no prerequisites and is open to all students. It counts as an elementary liberal arts and science course in the College of Letters and Science. Students can register for the course starting Wednesday, Nov. 11, for seniors; Thursday, Nov. 12, for juniors; Tuesday, Nov. 17, for sophomores and Monday, Nov. 30, for freshmen.

Dima is most looking forward to teaching Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, which is about the "most terrifying thing that haunts us," Dima says, "the impossible search for love." He's also excited to spark students' curiosity about both the undead and the French language, and how they're intertwined in literature and culture.

"The most exciting part for me — and it's going to sound sappy — but it's the journey I'm going to take the students on," Dima says. "And it's a journey that I will embark on and discover things as I go with them."

Story by Devin Lowe, University Communications