Zani: Monster stories will loom large
Lamar University has honored Steven Zani, professor of English and Modern Languages, as the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer for 2015. Zani has been a member of the Lamar faculty since 1999.
“Monsters in Literature in Philosophy – Vampires, Zombies and Bears, Oh My!” will be the topic of his lecture, sponsored by ExxonMobil, to be presented Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the University Theatre. The Lamar University Faculty Senate will host the lecture, which is open to the public without charge.
From early myths and epics through the 21st century, monsters have been around as long as recorded history, Zani said. From as long as 5,000 years ago to stories in popular culture today, monsters of all kinds, from aliens to zombies, are a recurring literary element.
The topic has considerable history, and Zani will draw on his own extensive materials that include numerous published articles and presentations as well as a soon-to-be-published article in the McFarland Press book “Monsters and Monstrosity from the Fin de Siecle to the Millennium: New Essays.”
“Traditionally, these stories are all about what one has to do to not become a monster, or to fight off monsters,” Zani said. “Essentially, monsters represent not just something external, but in some ways ourselves.”
“One cannot discuss what is monstrous without also discussing what is heroic,” he said. “To decide what makes a human truly human as opposed to something else, to determine what is noble in mankind, to discuss this we need a set of opposites. Monsters end up representing some of the key elements about our own humanity, when viewed in negative.”
"Monster stories aren't about monsters at all,” he said. “These books don't teach people what to do when real-life space beetles invade, or what to do when robots take over the world. That isn't going to happen. Instead, these stories teach us deeper, allegorical messages. They give lessons on how we need to treat strangers with kindness, how we shouldn't waste too much time sitting on the computer, and how if we're not careful, we'll all become monsters ourselves."
Zani, holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and a Master’s of Arts in philosophy, both from State University of New York at Binghamton, and earned a Bachelor’s degree with a triple major in English, philosophy and French from the University of South Alabama.
In addition to his extensive teaching, Zani is director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Enhancement, and is an adjunct instructor for the state and federal prison system teaching philosophy.
Zani has frequently been recognized at LU for his teaching, including being twice named Honors Faculty Professor of the Year, and a four-time pick as “Preferred Professor” by Alpha Delta Pi. In 2004, Zani was tapped as one of Texas Monthly’s “Best Classes” in its annual Guide to Texas Colleges and Universities. He served as chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages, 2008-2012.
“The best professors and teachers always know, in their hearts, that what they are doing is the most important thing in the world,” Zani said. “I believe that about Literature and I want everyone in the audience to want to be an English major by the time the lecture is done.”
Zani is the 29th recipient of the honor – one of the highest accorded a Lamar faculty member. A committee of faculty, staff, students and community representatives make the selection.
Other honorees have been: Jerry Lin, engineering; Catalina Castillon, English and modern languages; James Esser, psychology; Donna Birdwell, anthropology; Keith Carter and Jerry Newman, art; Richard Harrel, biology; George Irwin, physics; Rafael Tadmor, chemical engineering; Jean Andrews, deaf studies/deaf education; Jim Jordan and Jim Westgate, earth and space sciences; R.S. “Sam” Gwynn and Jim Sanderson, English; Kenneth Rivers, French; William Pampe, geology; John Carroll, Ronald Fritze, John Storey, J. Lee Thompson and Naaman Woodland, history; Dianna Rivers, nursing; Joe Pizzo, physics; Terri Davis, political science; Dorothy Sisk, professional pedagogy; and Christine Bridges-Esser, Spanish.