Week Eleven: Seeing into Space, Part II: Special Effects and

HONORS 200-005
The Mechanical and the Mystical: From Technology
to Magic
MW: 12:30-1:45 PM
HON 155
Office Hours: Mitchell Hall 147E, Mondays 2-3:15 PM
and by appointment
Professor Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece
UWM General University Course Policy:
Course Description:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
-Arthur C. Clarke
In this course, we will analyze how technology is considered magical or otherworldly in the
modern era through examples such as spiritualist photography’s supposed ability to capture
ghosts on film, or contemporary ghost hunters’ use of sophisticated electronic equipment. While
new technologies tend to be discussed in enigmatic and mystical terms, writers and artists often
conceive of mechanical objects as promising closer access to the divine or the supernatural. We
will therefore examine case studies in cultural history, art, science, literature, and media and ask
a range of questions: How do mechanized objects become laden with meaning and with spirit?
Why do certain technologies seem more supernatural than others? How do we establish
boundaries between science and magic? Are there differences between tools made to access the
supernatural and new technologies that seem magical because they are still mysterious?
Together, we will ask how our images of wondrous technology have changed—or, in some
ways, remained similar—throughout the modern era.
Credit Hour Breakdown: Additionally, all UWM syllabi are required to indicate the
number of hours a student will be expected to expend to complete the class. The expected
minimum number of hours of energy expended by students in this class is as follows:
Classroom discussion:
Writing papers:
36.25 hours
59.75 hours
48 hours
144 hours
Class Proceedings: Besides screening days (for The Prestige and Pulse), all class meetings
will be seminar-style. That means you will come to class not only having read for the day, but
prepared to talk about the readings. Please note: many of the readings will be difficult. I do not
expect you to understand them fully right off the bat; that is what classroom time is for! To that
end, please bring your questions, thoughts, and difficulties to class with you, and we will engage
them during class time. During class time, we will discuss the readings and watch clips from
various examples relating to the week’s topic.
Readings: There are two books for this class:
Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2000)
Philip K. Dick, VALIS (New York: Mariner Books, 2011)
Both are available at Neebo Books on Downer Avenue across the street from Mitchell Hall; do
feel free to purchase through online sources as well, but please be sure to purchase the proper
edition of VALIS, as the course requirement is a reprint from 2011. All other readings for this
course are posted on D2L. All readings are mandatory and should be completed prior to the day
on the schedule for which they are assigned.
A note: I reserve the right to make changes to readings/the syllabus as necessary; you will
NOT, however, be required to purchase any books beyond Haunted Media and VALIS.
Grade Components: Course grades will be determined according to the following
Course Attendance, Reading, and Participation: 20%
Short (500 word) creative analysis 1, due Monday, February 10 at 12:30 PM: 10%
Essay 1 (4-5 pages), due Wednesday, February 26 at 12:30 PM: 20%
Essay 2 (4-5 pages), due Wednesday, April 2 at 12:30 PM: 20%
Short (500 word) creative analysis 2, due Monday, April 21 at 12:30 PM: 10%
Essay 3 (4-5 pages), due Wednesday, May 7 at 12:30 PM: 20%
Grade Scale
93 to 100 %
90 to 92%
87 to 89%
83 to 86%
80 to 82%
77 to 79%
73 to 76%
70 to 72%
60 to 69%
59% or less
Short Creative Analyses: You will write two short creative analyses for the course. I will
provide between two and three prompts for these analyses the week before their due dates. You
may choose to write these in standard essay format, but you will also have the option to flex your
creative muscles and write a creative fiction or non-fiction piece. Regardless of which you
choose, papers must be at least 500 words, in Times New Roman 12 point font, with 1” margins
on all sides. They are to be submitted in PDF, Doc, or Docx format on D2L—NOT in hard copy.
Longer Essays: You will write three longer essays for class. These are to be formal essays,
i.e., structured as a standard college essay with thesis, supporting evidence, and conclusion. You
are not required to do external research for these essays, although you may if you prefer. I will
provide at least two prompts for each essay, but you may also choose to write on your own topic,
so long as it relates to the theme of the course. Papers must be between 4 and 5 pages, in Times
New Roman 12 point font, with 1” margins on all sides. They are to be submitted in PDF, Doc,
or Docx format on D2L—NOT in hard copy. Your first two essays may be revised and turned in
within a week of receiving your first grade for a higher grade.
A Note on Late Papers: Papers will be penalized by 5 points for each day they are late.
Lateness begins at 12:31 PM on the day the papers are due. PAPERS WILL NOT BE
Attendance and Tech Policy (Undergraduate and Graduate): I will take
attendance every meeting. If you are not present at the beginning of class you will be marked
absent for that day. You are allowed two unexcused absences. Every subsequent unexcused
absence will result in the subtraction of two percentage points from your grade.
Cell phones must be turned off during class. Texting is absolutely forbidden. I prefer a classroom
without laptops, but recognize that some students may want to take notes on their computers.
Please use your laptops sparingly and judiciously; you will be asked to leave class if it is evident
that you are doing something other than taking notes with them.
Problems: If you can’t find a particular file for class on the course D2L website, make sure
that you scroll to the bottom of the Course Home page and press “Show All” before emailing the instructor.
A Note About Classroom Climate: In this class, we will demonstrate respect for others’
viewpoints and diverse backgrounds at all times. We will not discriminate against or criticize
members of this classroom community based on gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation,
disability or any other such factor. Everyone is welcome here, and should feel safe expressing
their thoughts and beliefs. The readings and topics covered in this class may be both
intellectually and emotionally hard for different people, in different ways. You are expected to
work through these challenges, and you are expected to support your classmates as they move
through the materials. Any comments or behavior that instigates or contributes to a hostile
classroom climate will not be tolerated.
Course Schedule
Week One: Searching for Spirits
Wednesday, 1/22: Introduction, plus screening of clips from Ghostbusters and Ghost
Week Two: Wonderful Objects and Authenticity
Monday, 1/27: Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological
Reproducibility,” originally published in 1936, reprinted and retranslated in Grey Room
(39) (Spring 2010): 11-37 (available on D2L)
Wednesday, 1/28: Jeffrey Sconce, “Introduction,” from Haunted Media: Electronic
Presence from Telegraphy to Television (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000): 1-20
Week Three: Spiritualism, Photography, Madame Blavatsky
Monday, 2/3: Madame and HP Blavatsky, “Recent Progress in Theosophy,” The North
American Review 151(405) (August 1890): 173-186 (available on D2L); Alex Owen,
“Power and Gender: The Spiritualist Context,” from The Darkened Room: Women,
Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2004): 1-17 (available on D2L)
Wednesday, 2/5: Simone Natale, “A Short History of Superimposition: From Spirit
Photography to Early Cinema,” Early Popular Visual Culture 10(2) (May 2012): 124-145
Week Four: Spiritualism and Technical Objects
 Monday, 2/10: Sconce, Haunted Media, Chapter 1: 21-58
***First short (500 words) creative analysis due in D2L Dropbox before beginning of
 Wednesday, 2/12: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, “The Strange and Mysterious History of
the Ouija Board,” Smithsonian.com, October 28, 2013 (available on D2L)
Week Five: Magic and Science: The Prestige
Monday, 2/17: Watch The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006, USA, 130 minutes)
Wednesday, 2/19: Finish The Prestige in class
Week Six: Tesla, Edison, and Electricity
Monday, 2/24: Discuss The Prestige
Wednesday, 2/26: Philip Smith, “The Electric Chair,” from Punishment and Culture
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008): 142-168 (available on D2L)
***First essay (4-5 pages) due in D2L Dropbox before beginning of class***
Week Seven: Uncanny Bodies, Mysterious Medicine
Monday, 3/3: Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” originally published 1919, reprinted in
New Literary History: 616-642 (available on D2L)
Wednesday, 3/5: Leslie Umberger, “Emery Blagdon: Properly Channeled,” from Sublime
Spaces, Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists (Princeton:
Princeton Architectural Press, 2007): 2-23 (available on D2L)
Week Eight: Aliens, Monsters, and Strange Transmissions
Monday, 3/10: Sconce, Haunted Media, Chapter 3: 92-123
Wednesday, 3/12: H.P. Lovecraft, “From Beyond”
(http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/fb.aspx); H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of
Cthulhu” (http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/cc.aspx)
SPRING BREAK: 3/15-3/23
Week Nine: Televisions and the Other Side
Monday, 3/24: Haunted Media, Chapter 4: 124-166
Wednesday, 3/26: Haunted Media, Chapter 5: 167-210
Week Ten: Seeing into Space, Part I: Telescopic Visions
Monday, 3/31: Paul Virilio, “The Vision Machine,” from The Vision Machine
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994): 57-77 (available on D2L)
 Wednesday, 4/2: Selection from No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again
(read all three letters posted here: http://mjt.org/exhibits/letters/letters.html); look through
Hubble Site/Hubble Space Telescope: http://hubblesite.org/
***Second essay (4-5 pages) due in D2L Dropbox before beginning of class***
Week Eleven: Seeing into Space, Part II: Special Effects and Perception
Monday, 4/7: Scott Bukatman, “Kaleidoscopic Perceptions: The Artificial Infinite,” from
Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the 20th Century (Durham: Duke
University Press, 2003): 81-110
Wednesday, 4/9: Scott Bukatman, “Kaleidoscopic Perceptions: The Ultimate Trip:
Special Effects and Kaleidoscopic Perception,” 111-132
Week Twelve: Seeing into Space, Part III: Cinema, Expanded
Monday, 4/14: Gene Youngblood, portion of “Toward Cosmic Consciousness,” from
Expanded Cinema (1970): 135-156 (available on D2L); Arthur C. Clarke, “The Sentinel”
(1956): 1-6 (available on D2L)
Wednesday, 4/16: Philip K. Dick, VALIS (New York: Mariner Books, 2011): 1-84
Week Thirteen: Divine Machines, Holy Movies: VALIS
Monday, 4/21: Dick, VALIS, pages 85-172, plus R. Crumb’s “The Religious Experience
of Philip K. Dick,” Weirdo comic #17, 1986 (available here:
***Second short (500 words) creative analysis due in D2L Dropbox before beginning of
 Wednesday, 4/23: Dick, VALIS, pages 173-255
Week Fourteen: The Internet Part I: Ghosts in the Machine
Monday, 4/28: Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001, Japan, 118 minutes)
Wednesday, 4/30: Finish Pulse in class; discuss Pulse
Week Fifteen: The Internet Part II: Spirits in the Material World
Monday, 5/5: Will Wiles, “Creepypasta,” Aeon, December 20, 2013 (available on D2L);
look at Transcendental Meditation web site (http://www.tm.org/) and Deepak Chopra’s
Dream Weaver app (http://www.chopra.com/ccl/video/introducing-the-dream-weaverapp-for-meditation-deep-relaxation-and-dreaming)
Wednesday, 5/7: Wrap-up
***Final essay (4-5 pages) due in D2L Dropbox before beginning of class***