English professor shines light on older literature
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 02:02
Vampires, werewolves and zombies have taken over the film and literary industries, attracting more young readers than ever before. These supernatural entities, however, have originated long before Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight,” according to Evan Gottlieb, associate professor of English at Oregon State University.
For some, Evan Gottlieb’s collection of novels may begin to look more like a library. His passion for literature has inspired him to write for not just scholars and students, but for a pop culture audience as well.
Gottlieb’s recent blog on the Huffington Post titled “Jane Austen and Zombies: Old Novels, New Insights,” shares comparisons between old and contemporary literature.
Gottlieb is not suggesting older literature is better than contemporary novels. He states in his blog, “One’s appreciation of many contemporary novels and poems will almost certainly be deepened by some knowledge of the literary predecessors and influences that they draw on, allude to, or simply echo without necessarily knowing it.”
Readers who have the background knowledge from older novels can learn to appreciate and even better understand the popular novels of today — even novels about vampires and zombies.
Gothic figures have been popular since the 1700s, when many novels were based on a frame narrative, Gottlieb said. Nowadays, the equivalent of a frame narrative is contained in several found footage movies, where much of the film seems like it has been recorded on the scene of events.
“On the one hand, there’s been a long tradition of a fascination with the supernatural, some of it I think is the fantasy element: ‘Wouldn’t it be exciting?’ Some of it is, even in Walpole’s book, it’s a response to an increasingly secular society,” Gottlieb said. “Supernatural creatures are, in a way, a compensation for or a substitute for a more traditional form of belief.”
With each new generation becoming less aware of older novels, Gottlieb suggests students consider authors’ tradition of using contemporary events as a basis for fiction. Amy Waldman’s novel, “Submission,” looks at the hypothetical turn of events if the winning design for the World Trade Center memorial had been a Muslim architect.
“There’s another level of influence and another layer of significance to be uncovered if you keep moving back in time,” said Tara Williams, also an OSU associate professor of English.
Today’s TV shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men” attempt to recreate a historical period, but still portray the issues as relevant to today’s society. Having knowledge of this tradition allows students a new perspective, attitude and can use it to enjoy older literature.
When asked about reading Gottlieb’s blog post, Rebecca Schneider, graduate teaching assistant of writing 121, said, “I immediately shared it on my own page, because I think his writing was quite an accessible bridge between concepts that concern academics on the one hand, and things that trigger a range of pop culture interests on the other hand: zombies, romance, 9/11, the logic of free will,”
Aside from teaching literary theories, writing blogs and editing for Norton Critical Edition books, Gottlieb enjoys spending his leisure hours running, baking and teaching his two sons, James and Liam, the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“He’s found a way to balance beautifully his family life, personal interests, teaching and scholarship,” Schneider said.
Katherine Choi, news reporter