The Author is Undead – how to analyse literature and kill zombies
I can confirm that, since I am the only person still alive on the university premises, I will be teaching this course next semester. I remind you that I am the only person with the keys to this place, and I have hidden the keys somewhere not on my person. I have dried food and resources and I’m happy to share them, but only if you’ve got a passing grade. I remind you, also, that you cannot open locked doors. No, really. You have no special skillset. These are modern doors, in old buildings. You can’t even break a window. You will have to listen to me.
Sign up now! Limited places available. Intruders will be killed.
In this course we will learn some useful terminology relevant to the field of literary criticism. If you’ve ever been curious why a Nobel Prize winner really won the Nobel Prize, this is the course for you. You will be asked to bring your own shovels, meat cleavers, and pick-axes. I have sealed off the library, but if you really cannot find the literature anywhere else I am willing to let you in to search the shelves. The door will be opened once again exactly an hour later, and if you do not egress by then you will be assumed lost, or turned. The curriculum is as follows.
January 14. “A Mere Rifle”, lecture. In short: the basic survival strategies. Always work in pairs; never use a shotgun; the basics. How do we separate intention from result, or heads from necks cleanly? (You are not required to attend any of the lectures, of course, but even if you think you know everything I am about to say, lecture hall B is one of the safest places in the building, and one of the few that still have electricity.)
January 17. “Is This All the Fault of Zombie Novelists?”, lecture. A history of the zombie apocalypse, to the best of my understanding. A close look at the body of work that predated this armaggeddon. Those of you who were too busy struggling with simple survival might find it interesting to see how this all relates to literature today. What does the addition of poac do to the established modes of thinking of pomo and popomo? Also: we learn when it is okay to describe things as post-infrastructuralist as opposed to post-structuralist.
February 3. Essay deadline. I don’t truly care what you write about, but here are some starting points, should you need them.
1. Does the author’s life up until the point of writing their work factor in on the value or meaning of the book? (No. Don’t be daft.) If you think it does, why wouldn’t the rest of their life also factor in? Many authors keep writing new forewords to their new editions; do we include the sentiments expressed in those? Do we include their incoherent moansfootnote? The author is dead, and should stay dead.
2. You are in a burning book store and can only take three books with you, intending to leave, before the roof collapses. Analyse your mistakes. Why were you in the book store? You almost survive the roof collapsing – the beam is restricting your breathing but not prohibiting it entirely – but you cannot move. Eventually the soot lines the insides of your lungs. Describe your last thoughts.
February 11. “Deconstruction”, lecture. In this lecture, I lay out the tools you can use to apply the knowledge you have gained in praxis. What is genre? What holds a body together, and what can we do to break it down? Gardening tips for the long game.
February 25. “Dead, or Just Sleeping? How to Make Sure”, lecture, followed by open discussion, followed by a big feast. This is the date weakly inked out next to the ‘eat-by’ line on much of the dried food, and by then I calculate that the freezers in the cafeteria will have stopped working. We do cling to the trappings of our old, fallen civilisation. No-one really knows why the date on those bars is 25 Feb., but it is, and we follow it. Surely it should be time to examine our old beliefs and disbeliefs about the world, and not blindly accept the word of those who led us into this darkness in the first place? But we would feel uneasy eating those nutrition bars and rice cakes after this day. We have read things about proteins breaking down, and we have seen the smug scurrying of flour beetles before, and that’s what sticks in our minds. It feels safe to hold onto the past. This building is a safe place. Unless we’ve figured an alternative source of food by this date, I have nerve gas and exactly one gas mask, and if I know myself I won’t have any qualms about eating people by then.
Thank fuck no-one reads this far down in a curriculum anyway.
March 6. Examination. I take you this a nearby graveyard that I found, where the tombstones all mention the prehumous profession of the corpse. We pick out one that says ‘novelist’ or ‘writer’, and you dig up their grave and make sure they are actually dead. Survival means passing.
1. I heard one of them outside my window one night. I recognised her as a famous children’s novel author. “Rrrrrroooooooooooooooohhh” she said, in a long, slow drawl. Later in the night she switched syllable, “hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwlllllllllllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh”. It was mesmerising to listen to, and I will be updating the curriculum when I figure out a good way to pry myself away from the noises. “Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrthhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.”