In Which I Become the Body in the Classroom. Literally.

In any city, in any country, in any university in which you have been enrolled, go into any classroom and silently say, I seek the Holder of the A. If when you open your eyes a professor stands at the lectern, then you have failed, class will proceed as normal, and your journey ends here. But if when you enter you are greeted by a prostrate woman, eyes-open and non-responsive, then quickly assemble in groups of five or else prepare for a horrific end. The mind is more fragile than you know, and there are worse things than death.

If you seek the Object clenched in the body’s hand, you must tell the corpse its own story: the myth of the Holder of the A.

Do not forget as you write, this is no myth. Do not touch the Holder or attempt to take the Object by force. If you do either, or if you fail to reinvent her in the allotted time, she will stay dead and you will be forever destined to fail no matter the task you undertake. Succeed, and the corpse will awaken, and offer you a crumpled, bloodstained note promising intellectual supremacy.

The note is Object 537 of 538. If you can attain it, success is yours.

If, like me, you lurked or participated on 4chan’s /b/ or /x/, you may be familiar with the generic conventions in the short prose piece above. It mimics the style of the Holders Series, a collection of creepypasta chronicling the tasks of reckless, curious individuals seeking to collect mystical objects that should never come together. In the vein of open-source fiction, the individual stories in the Holders series lack attribution and the mythos is collaboratively, transparently constructed based on communal negotiations concerning the generic conventions of horror and expectations for the story itself. The mythos is unstable, unfixed, and thus can be continually modified and augmented. As a case in point, while the first Holders story states there are 538 Objects, stories exist after #538, telling the story of Objects 539 of 538, 540 of 538, etc., and a sequel series, Legion’s Objects, was started to chronicle an additional 2000 Objects.

I wrote the piece quoted above as part of an experimental class on open-source fiction, fandom, and amateur production online. I did this exercise in a media studies course, but I think it would work equally well, or better, in a composition or creative writing classroom. More after the jump if you’re interested in replicating the exercise or just want to hear how it went.

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a cry from hell.

Somewhere between life and academia lies a sinkhole comparable to what is, in Internet parlance, produced when you divide by zero. That is where I have been. Qualifying exams are looming; conferences are impending; creative pieces are demanding to be sent out; and I am simultaneously on the hunt for a teaching position to get me through my dissertation year. Despite the chaos, there have been some bright spots. My paper analyzing the logic underpinning misogynistic practices on 4chan’s Random – /b/ board was recently published in Fibreculture. That Joker chapter is going to press. And I have creative work forthcoming this spring in Consequence literary journal, and, with a slightly longer wait, in DIAGRAM. I’ll be teaching two classes this summer and am thrilled at the prospect of being back in the classroom. It’s been three long years and I miss FYW more than I can say. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Composition & Rhetoric position for at least 2014-15 AY.

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Monster Culture, Torture Porn, “Senseless”

For 5-6 years, I’ve taught Jeffrey Cohen’s “Monster Culture” in my classroom in an essay progression focusing on horror film.  The unit catered both to my personal credo—that students leave my classroom able to read pop culture forms—and to my love of the horror genre.  It fascinates me to no end that the monsters in horror films allow us to assess the cultural and political climate of the time in which it was produced.  I am especially intrigued by recent shifts toward “torture porn,” the term coined by Eli Roth regarding Hostel.  In these films, great care is taken to depict, as realistically as possible, the inner workings of the human body and how easily it breaks down in catastrophe.

For instance, the Final Destination franchise gives us increasingly convoluted and grisly ways to die, starting with asphyxiation in a shower and progressing toward death by race car tire and escalator belt, each replete with viscera and still-twitching limbs.  The Saw franchise, quality-rated by the number of viewers who vomited or had to leave the theater, calls itself psychological horror; in reality it uses torture porn—in the form of mechanical traps reminescent of Rube Goldberg—as a justifiable means to an end.  Perhaps at the release of Saw I, the monstrous message was different, but later installments equated traps with pure justice: that is, an individual confronted with a death machine based on his crimes or flaws serves justice unto himself.  It’s the old “give him a taste of his own medicine” shtick, only exaggeratedly amplified.  The health insurance executive learns how horrible a cost-benefit approach to human life is; the fraudulent self-help guru is forced to undergo the trials he claims to have experienced.

And viewers have picked up on this.  

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