This course, however, has to be the most absurd course I have ever encountered. The course information — see it for yourself at www.unc.edu/courses/2003fall/germ/006m/002 — reads like a Perfect Storm of academic absurdity. In fact, I'm hesitant to run this column because the course seems too perfectly absurd. Perhaps it's all an elaborate hoax (for what purpose, however, I can't guess).
Others I know share this suspicion. Let me quote some responses from friends to whom I e-mailed the course web site: "Is this a joke?", "Is this a joke?", and "This has to be a joke."
The problem is, if it's a joke, the butt of it is the university itself, not your humble chronicler of academic fiddle-faddle — because a course such as this being taught at UNC-CH is entirely believable. Thus the phrase "if it's a joke."
This course is offered by the Department of Germanic Languages at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It's called "Canine Cultural Studies."
Please bear with me. Owing to limited space, I can try, using the course information, only to answer the question, “Just what the heck is Canine Cultural Studies?” Space prevents me from attempting to answer such questions as: “Why does the Germanic Languages Dept. offer Canine Cultural Studies? Is barking a Germanic language? Is someone at UNC-CH just pulling our legs?”
According to the course overview, “We shall ask such questions as: When in history were dogs treated more as companions than workers and why? How does our representation of the dog relate to how we define our own” — here it comes; you can’t have a course description without The List — “sexuality, class race, nation, and gender? How does the dog delineate between private and public spaces? ...” (There are many more such questions; you get the idea.)
The course web site contains a wealth of material about the course. Here is a small sample of questions the class will ask or items the students will learn:
• “Talking Dogs: The literary tradition of dogs who talk. How literature articulates the leap of fantasy into a world that seems fuller, more sensuous, and more natural than our own.”
• “Dog Rights and the Pit Bull Debate: The tensions between animal inarticulateness and human morals. The role of the media in sensationalizing the debate and playing up class differences.”
• “the field of Canine Cultural Studies is vast”
• “The Rabies Scare and Sexuality” (class lecture)
• “That He-Dog Look: 'Turner and Hooch'” (film in class)
• “Women and Their Dogs: Dog Love, “Unconditional Lovers” and “Sex and the Single Dog” (class lecture)
• “As you read Sue Coe for the first time, mark an X in the margin at each point where you felt a personal challenge to your attitudes or beliefs. Make a brief note in the margin about what you feel or about what in the text created the challenge. Now look again at the places you marked in the text where you felt personally challenged. Email me what patterns you see.” (assignment, referring to Coe’s book Pit’s Letter, in which, according to Amazon.com, “a hapless canine describes her desolate life”)
Also — naturally — student can turn “this project into a service component by volunteering at the Orange County Animal Shelter and writing up an analysis of your experiences there.”
By the way, bravo to the satiric genius behind this — if this is a joke.