Lit & Culture: Voodoo and Literature

Stereotyped, mocked, and feared as the incarnation of evil, the term “voodoo,” as well as associated terms such as “zombie” and “fetish,” have come to be associated in the American popular imagination with extreme superstition and irrationality (“voodoo economics” “sexual fetishism,” “commodity fetishism,” and, well “zombie”): the opposite of who “we” are.

This course will first examine stereotypes of voodoo and how they are embedded in Haitian history as well as in the history of slavery and the American imagination: what Toni Morrison (in Playing in the Dark) has called the “Africanist Presence,” which deeply informs American identity. A particular focus will be on the transformation of the racialized and passive “zombie” of Haitian provenance to the flesh-eating “everyman” begat by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

We will then learn more about the actual history, practice, and philosophy behind voodoo (vodoun, vaudou, vodou, vodu, vodun, as well as Santeria, Candomble, etc.) as practiced in Haiti, West Africa, and the African Diaspora. Originating in West Africa, the matrix of beliefs and practice that we call voodoo has spread throughout the African diaspora, challenging dominant power, values, and meaning and affirming the life that exists in the worlds of the visible and the invisible.

Finally, we will look at how modern novelists, particularly women, have deployed fundamental philosophical concepts of African spirituality in their works of literature.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Toni Morrison, Beloved
William Gibson, Count Zero

Victor Halperin, White Zombie
Jacque Tourneau and Val Lewton (producer) I Walked with a Zombie
George Romero, Night of the Living Dead
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead

Supplemental Readings will be posted on Laulima

Major Assignments:
Two Reports
Reading Responses and other homework
Two 4-5 page papers; one on an outside reading