online syllabus:

electronic reserves:
(password 480)

class handouts:

possible research topics:

 (films/ literature/ bibliography)

~ schedule ~


Studies in Literature and Culture:

Cannibalism, Consumerism, and the Cultures of Cruelty

Summer 2009

Dr. Abby Coykendall

acoykenda at

Office: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G
Office Phone: 734-487-0147 (messages only)
Office Hours: TTh 8:10-8:40 PM

~ or  email for an appointment ~

Section # 42061 (480); 42350 (479); 42398 (592)

Tuesday & Thursday 5:30-8:10 pm

Pray-Harrold Hall 306


LITR/WGST 480/592/479:

Special Topic: “Cannibalism, Consumerism, and the Cultures of Cruelty”

In this class, we will investigate a particularly gruesome yet nonetheless especially intriguing motif that recurs throughout Western literature, whether it be popular, canonical, mythological, realistic, patently fantastic, or far otherwise; namely, cannibalism.  From Michel de Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals,” Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” onwards, cannibalism has served as the trope of tropes to epitomize human abjection and cruelty.  It has also served as an all too illusory, and ultimately all too effectual, justification for massive amounts of human bloodshed and brutality via imperialism, conquest, and colonization; cannibalism being, of course, the quite contrived reason to exclude those of other races and cultures from the human species and thence from the ostensibly inalienable “rights of man.”  Cannibalism (or, at least, the allegation of cannibalism) has continued to exert considerable fascination in contemporary film and fiction, often serving as a ready prompt for shock value as well as a salient allegory for the problem of evil: consider William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs, Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, or the real-life (and much romanticized) Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, and countless other anti-heroes of the nightly newscasts or dollar dreadfuls, which so unabashedly, yet so ambivalently, spotlight the serial killer, the substance abuser, or the multinational corporation preying indiscriminately, cannibalistically, on the best and the worst of humankind, all with such cavalier and calculated an abandon. 

Ultimately, whether it be in taking seriously the consumption (or threatened consumption) of babies and pets in fairy tales, animal fables, and classical mythology (“Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Hansel and Gretel,” Alice in Wonderland, Homer’s Odyssey), or in frankly examining the zombie-esque commodification of culture in twentieth-century theory and cinema (Willy Wonka, Dawn of the Dead, as well as that beloved cultural critic of the “opium of the people,” Karl Marx), we will consider not only how violent, but also how versatile, this lone trope of cannibalism can be, especially once given the critical, concerted, and creative attention of bibliophiles like ourselves—reading being, no doubt, the one form of cannibalistic consumption that we share in equal and exorbitant proportion.  Along the way, we will ask ourselves one overriding question, albeit from multiple points of view and in widely differing contexts: how does the trope of cannibalism (and the literary imagination as a whole) mediate perceptions of otherness, the distinctions between flesh and food, animal and human, male and female, civilized and savage, sacred and profane, and, most importantly, “us” and “them.”

Course Objectives: By the end of the semester, you will be better able to

* To identify the ways in which tropes of otherness, particularly the pervasive and uniquely powerful trope of cannibalism, at once convey, mediate, and suppress the complexities of cross-cultural encounters, whether in the literary imagination or in lived experience;

* To understand how literature, film, and other popular media work in tandem with history and material culture to instill ideologies of nationality, ethnicity, race, class, gender, religion, and sexuality, reflecting and sometimes even generating anew our cultural heritage and our conception of the cultural practices and traditions of others;

* To explore the mutual intercourse between the literary canon, popular culture, and institutions of disciplinary knowledge, not only coming to recognize the respective benefits and limitations of each but also seeing how they change over time and influence each other in distinct cultural contexts;

* To enhance verbal, visual, cultural, as well as cross-cultural literacy, and the hermeneutic skills that each entail, by interpreting received wisdom, folklore, and popular fantasy with the same critical acumen traditionally applied to literature alone.

Texts and Materials

The following books will be available at Ned’s bookstore (; 483-6400; 707 W. Cross St.).  If you order them online, make sure to get the same editions by double checking the ISBN number, a fingerprint of sorts for each book:




* Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Dover 1993; ISBN # 0486275434)

* H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure (Modern Library 2002; ISBN # 0375759050)

* Bram Stoker, Dracula, Ed. John Paul Riquelme (Bedford 2001; ISBN # 0312241704)

Recommended, but only Required for LITR/WGST 592:

* Cannibalism and the Colonial World, Ed. Barker, Hulme, & Iversen (Cambridge 1998; ISBN # 052162908X)




The remaining texts can be accessed online and then printed for free in any of the campus computer labs.  See the Electronic Reserves (ER):, password 480.  ** Make sure to bring a copy of the required texts that we are covering in class, whether found in the ER or in a book.  You will need everything on hand for group work and class discussions.

Assessment Weights



Weekly Homework & Class Participation


 due dates:



Proposal for the Research Paper


Tuesday, July 28



Presentation on Research Topic


Tuesday, August 18



Critical Research Essay on Related Topic


Tuesday, August 18

Coursework & Assignments

Consult with me as early as possible to brainstorm possible topics for the seminar paper, which constitutes a significant proportion of the final grade with the homework coming in a close second.  Instead of cumulative exams, there will be various kinds of informal assignments due almost every class period to ensure ongoing participation and progress: composing discussion questions, writing informal responses applying the theory to the literature, presenting select quotations from the outside reading, and serving as a respondent for the other students.  Everyone will cycle though these tasks over the term, beginning with a different task based on the group number and then doing the rest of them in turn.  See the Homework Assignments handout for more detailed information (/hmwk.htm).  (Note: All of the webpages associated with the course begin with

The groups are simply a way to organize which students do what (and with which texts) each class period: diversifying the topics which we highlight in the discussion, the people responsible for bringing key issues to our attention, as well as the skills and approaches which they use to do so.  Most of the class period will center around the interactive discussions that result from presenting on the homeworkThere is no “group work” properly speaking—i.e. working collaboratively with peers on the same assignment—so you do not have to meet with peers outside of class, only contact them on occasion to ensure that you are not doing the same text.

Grading Scale:





























Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns during my office hours in person (603G Pray Harrold) or by phone (487-0147), as well as through email (acoykenda at at any time.  Email is the most reliable way to reach me outside of the office since the messaging system for my office phone is dysfunctional at best.

Emails with straightforward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues will typically receive a reply before the next class period.  Please limit your emails to inquiries which I alone can answer so that I can give more pressing inquiries the attention that they deserve.  If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus, the handouts (/hand.htm), or the peers in your group (/groups.htm), and then email me if that confusion persists.

Campus Resources & Safety

At some point in the term, you might consider taking advantage of the Academic Projects Center, located in the Halle Library (Room 104).  This support center, open from 11:00-5:00 Monday-Thursday, assists with the research, writing, and technology skills necessary for success in academic papers and research projects.  Another support center, the International Student Resource Center, located in 200 Alexander (487-0370), is dedicated to second-language students from abroad.

Also consider availing yourself of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387).  If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the class.


Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial.  You never need to explain your absences, as I always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class.  However, students who for any reason miss more than TWO classes—or a fourth of the semester as a whole—will not be eligible to pass.  Reserve the allowable absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other emergencies that prevent you from coming to campus and make sure not to exhaust them too early in the term.  When you must be absent, contact the other students in your group (/groups.htm) to share notes or determine what you missed.  All absences up to the second are excused automatically, the missed homework is due on your return, and any changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarification of outstanding issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is essential to come on time.  Try to arrive early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking).  Arriving halfway into the period or leaving halfway through the period each count as half an absence.  Habitual lateness that interferes with student participation or disrupts the class will eventually be counted as an absence.

Classroom Etiquette

It is important to be mindful of your peers during class time, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive yourself.  Once class begins, do not distract your peers by walking in or out of the room unless there is a genuine emergency.  If you have a medical condition requiring you to exit from time to time, bring a formal doctor’s note affirming as such; otherwise, reserve all personal business for the break midway through the class period.  Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical; for example, students unprepared to do the groupwork for the day, or students discovered using laptops for purposes unrelated to the course, will be asked to leave and marked absent.

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all of the coursework on your own, is imperative.  Copying the homework of peers, taking credit for essays that you find on the internet, or recycling your own essays written for other classes for double credit are all forms of academic dishonesty, and for very good reason.  Each interferes with the sole purpose, and the unique benefit, of going to college; namely, the unfettered exercise of an informed mind.

The worst form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism, which, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  You must acknowledge when you make use of concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstance, whether it be drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration.  When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to specify as such (e.g., “So and so says X … ”); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (e.g., So and so says, “X”).  Any writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and any writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source.

Any instance of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment.  Any second instance will result in outright failure of the course.  There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor any exceptions to this policy.


Online Handouts and Links:

Course Syllabus                                           (

Course Schedule                                          (

Electronic Reserves (ER)                            (

Group Assignments                                    (

Homework Assignments                            (

Guidelines on the Research Paper             (



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