Alf Seegert
  • Associate Professor (Lecturer), English

Current Courses

Spring 2019

Fall 2018

Summer 2018

Courses I Teach

  • ENGL 2235 - Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings on Page and Screen
    This class explores fantasy literature through the writings and legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien. To that end we will study Tolkien’s 3-volume work The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson’s 2001-2003 film series, with special attention to the cinematic adaptation of print text and the representational limits and possibilities of each medium. We will also examine selections from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and his theories of enchantment and secondary worlds in “On Fairy Stories.” Students will be required to read carefully, attend regularly, and complete a series of Critical Responses, a Midterm, and a Final Exam.
  • English 2040 -- Contemporary Literature - Utopia, Dystopia, and Ecotopia
    More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. –Woody Allen 20th- and 21st-century visions of the ideal society, or utopia, often seem to embody Woody Allen’s wry appraisal of the dismal alternatives before us. Utopian solutions all too often bring dystopian effects: eugenics, totalitarianism, nuclear holocaust, ecological devastation. In this course we will examine both the threats and the possibilities presented by the utopian imagination in contemporary literature. Is contemporary society, as Neil Postman argues, more at risk of “amusing itself to death” in a Huxleyan “Brave New World” of digital media than it is from the coercion of Orwell’s “Big Brother”? In a post-cold war world, are threats of eco-catastrophe more pressing than totalitarianism and nuclear warfare? Do viable ecotopian responses exist, such as those presented by Ernest Callenbach (Ecotopia) and Margaret Atwood (Year of the Flood)? Novels will include Aldous Huxley, Brave New World; George Orwell, 1984; Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange; Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia; Margaret Atwood, Year of the Flood; and Chris Bachelder, Bear v. Shark. We will also read from Paolo Bacigalupi’s brilliant short story collection Pump Six and Other Stories. Films will include Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca.
  • English 2070 - Popular Culture: Weird Tales and Fantastic Fiction
    Wonder, mystery, awe. A potent work of fantasy can evoke all of these sensations by leading us through a portal into a fabulous alternative world, or by making mundane reality seem fantastical. But when truly impossible weirdness intrudes into one’s everyday world, the effect is not only thrilling, but horrifying. Thus, the weird tale, according to H.P. Lovecraft, means “something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule.” He insists that a weird tale must possess a “certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces” and “a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—-a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.” The task of our class is to critically engage with weird tales and fantastic fiction in various exciting literary texts and films. We will traverse the Uncanny Valley and recoil in Cosmic Horror as we scale the Mountains of Madness. Oh, and while we’re at it, we'll read and write about short stories, novels, and films, and learn theories of the fantastic. Authors will include Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Haruki Murakami. Films include Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942), Andrew Leman’s The Call of Cthulhu (2005), and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). No prerequisites are required. This course will be fun but it will also be rigorous. Students will be expected to show up regularly to each session, text-in-hand, fully prepared to discuss all assigned materials. Assessments include two essays and two exams.
  • English 2085 - Digital Culture: Virtuality and Nature
    In this class we will explore various films, short stories and novels that wrestle with the problem of the virtual and its relationship with nature. Although today the virtual is typically associated with cyberspace, digital media, and video games, the virtual has always been with us in art, memory, dream, fantasy, and in representation generally speaking. Where Plato condemned art as counterfeit reality in The Republic, Oscar Wilde in contrast disdained nature as merely “bad art” and instead valorized the artificial. Such debates continue today. Films like Blade Runner and The Matrix lay bare the anxieties that result from the threat of lifelike simulations ultimately substituting for the so-called “natural” world. In cyberpunk technoscapes and the transhumanist vision of Ray Kurzweil, virtuality becomes so pervasive that nature in effect disappears: prosthetic limbs and circuitry fuse technology with the body and the allure of cyberspace substitutes for physical landscapes and fleshly interaction. In response to the “threat of the virtual,” texts like E.M. Forster’s 1909 story “The Machine Stops” represent the attempted flight away from mechanized society back into the “natural” body. Alex Rivera’s surrealist science fiction film Sleep Dealer examines the alienating effects of avatar identity and drone technology. Werner Herzog’s film Grizzly Man viscerally illustrates just how deadly a reencounter with the body and wild nature can be for people who are used to living their lives through digital media. In addition to these works we will also watch episodes from Black Mirror — Charlie Brooker’s darkly satiric British series on technology-as-Twilight Zone. Other texts include Oscar Wilde’s novel of avatar identity, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for Blade Runner), and Adolfo Bioy Casares’ novella The Invention of Morel, plus short works by Edward Abbey, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Borges, Jean Baudrillard, Marshall McLuhan, Susan Sontag, and others.
  • English 2090 - Video Games and Storytelling
    This class explores the interplay between game and story in video games. Students will play and analyze video games, specifically those with strong narratives. Texts include video games themselves, as well as a selection of films, fiction, and critical resources.
  • English 2600 ONLINE - Critical Introduction to Literary Forms
    This course is an online introduction to literary forms and terminology that English majors—-and students with an interest in literature more generally-—will use in subsequent literary study. By examining four major literary forms—-short fiction, poetry, drama, and the novel—- you should be able to develop critical skills in reading and writing (we will devote particular attention to “close reading” of literary texts).
  • English 3080 - Studies in Environmental Literature
    The course’s primary objective is to familiarize students with the diversity of genres or modes of writing which can be gathered together under the rubric of “environmental literature” (e.g., essay, poetry, cultural criticism, creative nonfiction, memoir, short story, novel, etc.). Other objectives include introducing students to a range of rhetorical, literary, or philosophical problems encountered by environmental writers (e.g., debates on the relationship between “nature” and “culture”; the problem of anthropomorphism; rival conceptions of space, place and the body; the relationship of human beings to other animals; language and its connection to landscape; dwelling; spirituality). The course will also introduce basic definitions, debates, and theories associated with the encompassing label “ecology” (e.g., ecocentrism; bioregionalism; ecofeminism; and more broadly, ecophilosophy and ecocriticism).
  • English 3600 ONLINE - Introduction to Critical Theory
    What is literature? What is the relationship between literature and “reality”? What strategies contribute to textual meaning? What kinds of relationships are possible between a literary text and a reader? What kinds of political and cultural work does literature do and how does it do it? This course will introduce you to major issues and debates in critical theory and offer a variety of approaches to reading and studying literature. It aims to make you more conscious of your interpretive strategies and to raise questions about what is at stake in reading and interpreting literature and other cultural texts.
  • English 5010 -- Studies in Fiction - Nature, Virtuality, and Re-Enchantment
    This class is crosslisted with Environmental Humanities through HUM 6900. About a century ago, sociologist Max Weber famously declared that modernity had, through the combined powers of industrialization and technical rationality, brought about “the disenchantment of the world.” This disenchantment drained soul and meaning from the cosmos, leaving people alienated from themselves and nature, and rendering the earth a wasteland. In this class we will examine two primary methods that literature and film have used in an attempt to “reenchant” our experience of the world around us in the past century. First is the attempted return to wild, animate nature by challenging rationalized, mechanical interfaces and reclaiming one’s own sensuous, carnal body. Texts here include D.H. Lawrence’s scandalously sexy 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover and David Abram’s evocative philosophical meditation on language, ecology, and the body, The Spell of the Sensuous. The second method of reenchantment in contrast aims not to escape virtuality and mechanism, but rather to embrace—and ultimately, to ensoul—them. Texts here include Martin Scorsese’s love-letter to cinema and machine automata, the 2011 film Hugo. We will also read Max Barry’s hilarious and oddly moving novel Machine Man (2011). Throughout the semester we will also encounter attempts to bring nature and technovirtuality together, as in Andrew Stanton’s 2008 film WALL-E. Other texts include Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil and Joe Wright’s 2007 film version of Atonement. We will also read selections from recent critical writings on modernity and re-enchantment, including Jane Bennett's The Enchantment of Modern Life, Patrick Curry’s work on magic vs. enchantment, and Michael Saler’s notion of “disenchanted enchantment” from the book AS IF.
  • English 5050 -- Studies in Genre - Virtuality and Nature in Film and Fiction
    This class is crosslisted with Environmental Humanities through HUM 6900. In this class we will explore various films, short stories and novels that wrestle with the problem of the virtual and its relationship with nature. Although today the virtual is typically associated with cyberspace, digital media, and video games, the virtual has always been with us in art, memory, dream, fantasy, and in representation generally speaking. Where Plato condemned art as counterfeit reality in The Republic, Oscar Wilde in contrast disdained nature as merely “bad art” and instead valorized the artificial. Such debates continue today. Films like Blade Runner and The Matrix lay bare the anxieties that result from the threat of lifelike simulations ultimately substituting for the so-called “natural” world. In cyberpunk technoscapes and the transhumanist vision of Ray Kurzweil, virtuality becomes so pervasive that nature in effect disappears: prosthetic limbs and circuitry fuse technology with the body and the allure of cyberspace substitutes for physical landscapes and fleshly interaction. In response to the “threat of the virtual,” texts like E.M. Forster’s 1909 story “The Machine Stops” represent the attempted flight away from mechanized society back into the “natural” body. Alex Rivera’s surrealist science fiction film Sleep Dealer examines the alienating effects of avatar identity and drone technology. Werner Herzog’s film Grizzly Man viscerally illustrates just how deadly a reencounter with the body and wild nature can be for people who are used to living their lives through digital media. In addition to these works we will also watch episodes from Black Mirror — Charlie Brooker’s darkly satiric British series on technology-as-Twilight Zone. Other texts include Oscar Wilde’s novel of avatar identity, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the basis for Blade Runner), and Adolfo Bioy Casares’ novella The Invention of Morel, plus short works by Edward Abbey, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Borges, Jean Baudrillard, Marshall McLuhan, Susan Sontag, and others.
  • Honor 2102 - Honors Core in Intellectual Traditions II
    This course explores the development of literature, philosophy, and theology from the beginnings of the Common Era to roughly the seventeenth century (with a large part of our attention dedicated to the so-called “Middle Ages,” followed by the Renaissance). During this time religious thinkers, poets, artists, and politicians formulated many ideas and values that still captivate people’s imagination today and inform our contemporary world views. Major authors we will read include St. Augustine, the Beowulf Poet, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, the Gawain Poet, Chaucer, Machiavelli, Montaigne, and Sir Thomas More. Topics include free will and divine justice; faith and philosophical reason; cosmology and conceptions of Nature; rival views of representation and iconography; the intersection of paganism and Christianity; notions of sin, hell, and redemption; Renaissance humanism and secularism; visions of the ideal society; and the Protestant Reformation. Success in this course will require dedicated and careful reading, critical thinking, and strong writing.
  • Honor 2103 - Honors Core in Intellectual Traditions III
    This class studies the development of our “modern” (really, postmodern or hypermodern) society, as influenced by the (so-called) Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, and other movements and periods. Readings are drawn from canonical writings in science, philosophy, literature, and history. The course focuses on issues such as the development of modern science and technology, the tensions (and hidden alliances) between science and religion, the impact of evolutionary theory, and developments in philosophy and psychology on conceptions of the human subject. Major authors we will read include Galileo, Newton, Descartes, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, Mary Shelley, Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche. Success in this course requires careful reading, critical thinking, strong classroom participation, and good writing.

Student Projects

  • Honors Thesis Faculty Supervisor. Dalton Edwards. 09/2016 - present
  • Faculty Advisor for Service Learning Scholar. Annika Pecchia-Bekkum. 09/2012 - 05/2013
  • Faculty Advisor for Undergraduate Research Opportunity (UROP). Annika Pecchia-Bekkum. 09/2012 - 05/2013
  • Faculty Advisor for Bachelor of University Studies student. Alex Boren. 12/2011 - 05/2015

Teaching Projects

  • ENGL 5090, Literature and Video Games. Project Lead: Development of new advanced course combining literature and video games. 08/2016 - present.
  • ENGL 2235, Fantasy: "The Lord of the Rings on Page and Screen". Project Lead: GEN ED course development . 09/2015 - present.