Telling a story from the perspective of the dead or creating a character with whom dead people communicate makes possible the ultimate retrospective narration—whether such speakers communicate honestly about life, they remain so enmeshed in life that they confirm their biases, they struggle with the meaning of their lives, they do penance for their misdeeds, they speak from within a faith tradition or they speak from the void itself. Some of these non-corporeal speakers may be spirits, some may be hallucinations and some may be echoes in print, recording devices or social media.
At their worst, narratives from the place between life and eternity promise inanely that everything will be okay. We won’t read those books! At their best, these narratives challenge us to see that the unexamined life is wasted; that we must accept ourselves and others; that it is difficult to see ourselves as the object of others’ consciousnesses; that right actions are rarely easy and that wrong actions often seem right; that life is more complex, difficult and beautiful than we ever dreamed; and that everything will not be even vaguely okay unless we make it so. How do we do that? Join us and join the debate!
To explore these texts and debate their implications, we will explore aspects of Buddhist, Christian and other belief systems, and we will consider the intersections of those beliefs with funerary practices, everyday acts, philosophy and big questions about existence and reality.
We will explore various stories of the dead told in various ways, refine our skills as readers and analytical writers, and spin a few tales—some fictional, some factual—from beyond the grave.
Texts may include: “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray (1751), Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters (1914), “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot (1915), Our Town by Thornton Wilder (1938), No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre (1944), The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (1967), Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987), A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozecki (2013), Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017), Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017) and Afterlife by Julia Alvarez (2020).
Film and TV may include: Sunset Boulevard
dir. Billy Wilder (1950), Beetlejuice
dir. Tim Burton (1988), Donnie Darko
dir. Richard Kelly (2001), and “Silence in the Library” and “Forests of the Dead” (2008) from the Dr. Who
English 12 Logistics
The English Department offers three course options to seniors:
Students rank their preferences first, second and third when they register. While the department makes every effort to accommodate student preferences, both scheduling conflicts and the necessity of maintaining a favorable student-to-teacher ratio mean that some students will be enrolled in a second choice and a few may be enrolled in their third choice for English 12.