Professor, Department of English, Dawson College
Professor, Department of English, Dawson College
I'm Justin Pfefferle, a professor in the Department of English at Dawson College and adjunct faculty at Bishop's University. I teach courses and research in a variety of areas and across disciplines, including transatlantic modernist literatures, crime fiction, critical theory, cultural studies, and film. I have taught previously in the Department of English and the Graham School of Professional Communication at the University of Saskatchewan (2016-2017), and was Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the State University of New York, New Paltz (2015-2016), my first job after earning my Ph.D. at McGill University in 2015.
As a researcher, I'm mainly preoccupied with British and American cultural production of the mid-century, with a focus in wartime and the immediate postwar period. I've presented work at the Space Between and Modernist Studies Association Conferences on figures like Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Patrick Hamilton, Humphrey Jennings, Elizabeth Bowen, and Lee Miller. I'm currently working on a project tentatively called "Adaptogenic Narrative in the Long Midcentury, 1938-1960." This project investigates what I view as tendency of midcentury narratives, beginning with duMaurier's and Hitchcock's Rebecca, to theorize themselves as adaptations—not merely to thematize adaptation at the level of plot and so anticipate the adaptational processes they would soon undergo, but to engage in self-reflexive gestures that contribute to the discursive arena within which adaptation was taking shape as a dominant, and fraught, cultural form.
I have a developing interest in contemporary digital and new media arts, especially video and sound art. Some of my writing on media art can be found in the 2014 book Paved Meant, a collection of essays about installations that exhibited at the terrific artist-run gallery Paved Arts in Saskatoon SK, Canada. Finally, I'm an enthusiastic reviewer of Canadian fiction, for such literary publications as the Maple Tree Literary Supplement, the Malahat Review, and the Bull Calf Review.
In my classes, I encourage students to indulge their curiosities and take intellectual risks. I consider education to be a necessarily social process, one that happens inside and outside the classroom, and whose best effects are felt in the public sphere, beyond the confines of the ivory tower.
Below, you can find syllabi for classes I have taught at Bishop's University, the University of Saskatchewan, SUNY New Paltz, and McGill University.
Students who take this course will make an approach to the edifice of the Gothic Tradition. We will spend the term following the twists and turns of the social, cultural, and historical grounds upon which the tradition developed. We will enter the corridors of an expansive survey of Gothic narratives and excavate their deepest, darkest mysteries. We begin our journey with The Castle of Otranto. From here, we move on to two canonical Gothic novels, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre before uncannily re-encountering Jane in Daphne du Maurier’s perverse Gothic romance, Rebecca. We round out the course with two very different representatives of the American Southern Gothic tradition: William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Syllabus: The Gothic Tradition
The literary history of the first half of the twentieth century reads something like this: “Responding to a world of geopolitical violence, unsettling discoveries in the field of human psychology, and an emergent, debased mass-culture, writers abandoned the realistic aesthetics and epistemological assumptions of their Victorian and Edwardian predecessors and adopted a difficult, fragmentary style meant to mirror the chaotic conditions in which they lived and worked.” So far, so good. But while the literature and culture we designate as “modernist” tends to dominate critical appraisals of the period, detective and crime fiction—rooted in realism, driven by plot, and intended for mass-consumption—dominated bookshops and the bookcases of readers, ordinary and expert alike.
Syllabus: Crime Fiction
This class traces the development of literary theory from its origins in English Departments at the beginning of the twentieth century, to the fractious debates about theory and anti-theory in the postwar academy, to contemporary theoretical movements and concepts that challenge our suppositions about what it means to read a literary text. In the first half of the class, we are going to conduct a survey of major theoretical trends, including poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, queer theory, and adaptation theory. In the second half, we are going to explore how we can use those theories to illuminate, and complicate, a particular text: Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, Frankenstein.
Syllabus: Literary Theory
This course invites students to follow a historical trajectory of life writing from St. Augustine’s Confessions (400 AD) to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (2015). As well as examining a full range of different kinds of life writing, including diaries, letters, memoirs, autobiographies, and eye-witness reportage, we will consider and discuss shifting attitudes toward the very idea of “the self,” and its relationship to various kinds of cultural production.
Syllabus: Confession, Memoir, and Life Writing
In introduction to film, we view and discuss significant films, read seminal works of film criticism and theory, and cultivate a vocabulary for thinking, speaking, and writing critically about cinema. Starting with early experiments in photography and moving image technology, we follow a trajectory that includes silent film, German Expressionism, Surrealism, film noir, American Direct Cinema, the French New Wave, and Canadian documentary.
Syllabus: Introduction to Film
Reading narrative begins from the premise that human beings are story-telling animals and that we cannot not narrate our realities. In this class, we engage with a variety of literary forms—essays, short fiction, poetry, the novel, and drama—in order to clarify what we mean when we’re talking (and writing!) about narrative.
Syllabus: Reading Narrative
In his “First Principles of Documentary,” John Grierson admitted that “documentary is a clumsy description,” but urged his reader to “let it stand.” Rather than accept Grierson’s advice, we examine precisely what it means to describe a film as documentary by viewing and talking about a survey of significant films, including Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, D.A. Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Reassemblage, and Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.
Syllabus: Introduction to Documentary Cinema
This course introduces students to a representative survey of British literature from the 17th century to the present. We study a variety of canonical texts. As well as discussing the formal and aesthetic properties of the works we examine, we spend time situating these texts in their respective cultural, historical, social, and political contexts. Of necessity, this involves a sustained conversation about what the very concept of the canonical entails.
Syllabus: The Canon and its Discontents
The etymology of “essay,” from the French essai, describes a practice that hinges on the idea of attempt. In this class, we hone our skills as essayists—readers and commentators who embrace the experience of thinking and writing as an ever-going process—through the close reading and discussion of seminal essays of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Syllabus: The Art of the Essay
The purpose of this course is to prepare students to negotiate the rhetorical, political, ethical, and interpersonal challenges of communicating in a professional environment. The class mixes theory with practice in order to help develop students’ communicative judgement and effectiveness.
Syllabus: Rhetoric and Professional Communication
This course follows the evolution of the novel as it developed in the twentieth century alongside other communications technologies, including photography, radio, telephony, television, cinema, and the internet. The course is aimed at heightening our appreciation of the dominant literary form of the twentieth century and better understanding the various ways and forces through which media interact with one another.
My PhD dissertation, "Surrealism and Documentary in Britain during the Second World War," describes a cultural history of a chance encounter as strange as Lautréamont's meeting on a dissection table between an umbrella and a sewing machine. During the Blitz, members of the English Surrealist Group took to documentary, while documentarians adopted the aesthetics and conceptual preoccupations of the Surrealists. The result is what I consider to be the dominant literary and visual rhetoric of the Second World War, a period we remember as being at once intensely "real" and strange beyond belief--the stuff of the Surrealist imagination.
I'm currently building a project that investigates the trans-mediation of narratives in the "long midcentury." What interests me is, on the one hand, is the tendency of narratives of this period to begin almost immediately to move across and between different media platforms--novels become films, television shows, radio plays, etc. Related to this cultural phenomenon, my project argues, is an emergent narrative preoccupation with adaptations, doubles, metamorphoses, etc, that manifests at the levels of form and content. So far, the project concerns such narratives as Rebecca, The Third Man, Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, Lolita, and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
I'm putting the final touches on a couple articles, too: one called "Mass-Observation, the English Pub, and Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude," and another called "Reading James Bond Reading Women: 007's Hermeneutics of Suspicion." I recently presented a paper on Daphne Du Maurier's and Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca at the Space Between Society Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, in May 2017. That paper is called "Rebecca, Adaptation, Rebecca."
Hit play on the video to watch a talk I gave at SUNY New Paltz in March 2016 called "Lucid Abnormality: Lee Miller, Elizabeth Bowen, and the Surrealism of the Second World War."