My essay on the teaching of horror fiction — “The Unlearning: Horror and Transformative Theory” — just went live in the debut issue of the journal, Transformative Works and Cultures. Here’s the abstract:
“The Unlearning: Horror and Transformative Theory” by Michael A. Arnzen
Building on the foundational concepts of transformative learning theory, I argue that horror fiction strongly encourages perspective transformation by challenging student assumptions about both genre writing and educational experience. I informally describe a specific creative writing class period focusing on the motif of the scream in diverse horror texts, and I illustrate how students learn to transform what they already bring to the classroom by employing a variety of particular in-class writing exercises and literary discussions. Among these, transformative writing exercises—such as the revision of an existing text by Stephen King—are highlighted as instructional techniques. As cautionary literature, horror especially dramatizes strategies of fight versus flight. I reveal how students can learn by transforming their knowledge through disorientation that is particular to reading and writing in the horror genre.
I started thinking about the ideas in this article after writing a blog entry back in 2005 called “Shifting the Paradigm: Transformative Learning Theory” — a response to an essay I read by Kelly McGonigal called “Teaching for Transformation.”
McGonigal’s article got me to rethink the role of the reflective essay assignments in my classes, and I soon found myself in the library, catching up on transformative learning theory by reading the works of Jack Mezirow and others who seek to change the worldviews of adult learners. The key role of the “activating event” in transformation got me thinking about how “cautionary” tales and other works in the horror genre often trigger anticipatory thinking that requires a revision of what one initially assumed to be true. After applying these lessons to a course I taught in horror fiction writing last year, I captured some of these ideas in a conference paper in March 2008 at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts…an early draft of this now-published version. I invite comments here or at the journal, which includes a number of good articles on fan studies and popular culture.