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African Vampires, Zombies, and Other Political Phantasms Course

In this class, we will explore literature and films about African vampires, zombies, mermaids, witches, and ghosts as a way of thinking about how Africa is constructed in the global imagination as well as how African and African diasporic artists use magic to analyze the dynamics of power. In this interdisciplinary anthropology, political science, literature and history course, students will be introduced to several bodies of literature (twentieth-century African American and Francophone fiction; twenty-first century African science fiction; West African popular film); as well as the latest in theorizing about magic, culture, and the state. Among the readings and viewings will be novels by Paula Hopkins, Octavia Butler, Sony Labou Tansi, Ishmael Reed, D. A. Fagunwa, Chris Abani, Ben Okri, and Lauren Beukes; films by George A. Romero and Neill Blomkamp; and analytical works by Louise White, Achille Mbembe, Jean and John L. Comaroff.

Required Novels

  • Sony Labou Tansi’s ghost story A Life and a Half (orig. La vie et demie: Roman) (Congo, 1974, 132 pages)
  • Lauren Beukes’s sci-fi murder mystery Zoo City (South Africa, 2011, 182 pages)
  • Ishmael Reed’s voodoo novel Mumbo Jumbo (USA, 1972, 220 pages)
  • Octavia Butler’s science fiction vampire novel Wild Seed (USA, 1990, 320 pages)
  • Pauline Hopkins’s pan-Africanist epic Of One Blood (US, 1902-3, 224 pages)
  • Ben Okri’s ghost story The Famished Road (Nigeria, 1991, 500 pages)
  • D. O. Fagunwa’s folktale Forest of a Thousand Daemons (Nigeria, 1939, 153 pages)
  • Chris Abani’s paranormal mystery Secret History of Las Vegas (US, 2014, 336 pages)

Required Films

  • Victor Halperin’s voodoo film White Zombie (USA, 1932, 67 minutes)
  • Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s sci-fi film Les Saignantes (The Bloodettes, Cameroon, 2005, 92 minutes)
  • Jacques Tourneur’s voodoo film I Walked with a Zombie (USA, 1943, 69 minutes)
  • Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi film District 9 (South Africa, 2009, 112 minutes)
  • George A. Romero’s zombie film Night of the Living Dead (US, 1968, 96 minutes)
  • Bill Gunn’s blaxploitation film Ganja and Hess (USA, 1973, 110 minutes)
  • Tunde Kelani’s Nollywood film Thunderbolt (Nigeria, 2000, 110 minutes)
  • Tobias Wendl’s documentary Ghanaian Video Tales (Ghana, 2004, 58 minutes)
  • Howard J. Ford’s zombie film The Dead (shot in Ghana, 2009, 105 minutes)
  • Wes Craven’s zombie film The Serpent and the Rainbow (US, 1988, 98 minutes)
  • Alejandro Brugués’s Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos, Cuba, 2011, 92 minutes)
  • Ugezu J. Ugezu’s Sexy Vampires 1 and 2 (Nigeria, 2013, 100 minutes)?
  • Socrate Safo’s Mammy Wata film Jezebel (2007, 2008) (screened in class)
  • Michel Ocelot’s animated film Kirikou et la Sorcière (Kirikou and the Sorceress, 1998, 71 minutes)

Required Secondary Reading

  • Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James Rushton, introduction in Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition (2011), pp. 1-14.
  • Achille Mbembe, “The Aesthetics of Vulgarity” in On the Postcolony (UC Press, 2001): 102-141.
  • Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff. “Occult Economies and the Violence of Abstraction: Notes from the South African Postcolony.” American Ethnologist 26, no. 2 (1999): 279-303.
  • Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff, “Alien-Nation: Zombies, Immigrants, and Millennial Capitalism,” in South Atlantic Quarterly 101, no. 4 (2002): 779-805.
  • Elias Kifon Bongmb, chapter 2, “Toward a Hermeneutics of Wimbum Tfu,” African Witchcraft and Otherness: A Philosophical and Theological Critique of Intersubjective Relations (2001), 17-53.
  • Tabish Khair and Johan Höglund introduction in Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires: Dark Blood (Palgrave 2012), pp. 1-9.
  • Luise White, Chapter 1, pages 3-56, Speaking with Vampires. Rumor and History in Colonial Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
  • Tobias Maria Wendl, “Wicked Villagers and the Mysteries of Reproduction: An Exploration of Horror Movies from Ghana and Nigeria,” Postcolonial Text 3, no.2 (2007): pp. 1-21.
  • Katrina Daly Thompson’s “Swahili Talk about Supernatural Sodomy: Intertextuality, the Obligation to Tell, and the Transgression of Norms in Coastal Tanzania” Critical Discourse Studies 11, No. 1 (2014): 71-94.
  • Chimaraoke O. Izugbara, “Sexuality and the Supernatural in Africa,” in African Sexualities, edited by Sylvia Tamale, 533-558 (Fahamu/Pambazuka, 2011).
  • Misty Bastian, “Irregular Visitors: Narratives about Ogbaanje (Spirit Children) in Southern Nigerian Popular Writing” in Stephanie Newall’s Readings in African Popular Fiction (Indiana, 2001, pg. 59-67)
  • David McNally, Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism (Haymarket Books, 2011) [BUY AT LABYRINTH]
  • Lindsey Green- Simms, “Occult Melodramas: Spectral Affect and West African Video- Film” Camera Obscura 27, no. 2 (2012): 25-59.
  • Barbara Frank, “Mami Wata, Wealth-Owning Spirits, and Changing Economic Morals in West Africa,” in Sacred Waters: Arts for Mami Wata and Other Divinities in Africa and the Diaspora, ed. Henry John Drewal (Bloomington: Indiana U Press, pp. 115-122.
  • Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics” Public Culture winter 2003 15(1): 11-40.