Fall 2001

This course will be devoted to a close study of ten important and representatively postmodern texts with respect to their special social, philosophical, and aesthetic contexts. The course presumes familiarity with the pre-WWII American literary tradition as well as with the novel genre.

Normally, M 11:30-12:30, 1:30-3:00; WF 11:15-1:00; TR 12:30-2:00; and by appointment.

The ten novels constituting the core of the course, all of which you're required to read and will be tested on, are:
         John Barth, The Floating Opera
         Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
         Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
         Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
         Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Voyeur
         Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
         Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
         Tim O'Brien, Going After Cacciato
         Leslie Silko, Ceremony
         Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

(1) You'll undertake one major project for the semester. I'm anticipating that most projects will be one of two varieties of "traditional" term paper:
         (a) a paper of about 10-15 pp. in which you submit one of the texts to a close formal or structural critical analysis, or
         (b) a research paper in which you survey early critical responses to the text with an eye to examining what those responses say or imply about the novel's contextual ethos - the prevailing social, philosophical, psychological, political, and/or aesthetic climate of the times.
      You should schedule an office visit (advisedly by the end of September, but in any case before Fall break) to discuss your project with me, and plan thereafter to check in with me periodically whenever you're running into problems or just to let me know how it's coming. The ideal due date is M 26 November (the day after Thanksgiving vacation ends); the deadline is 11:15a.m. Pearl Harbor Day, F 7 December; late submissions will be penalized at the rate of one letter grade per 24 hours or part thereof; in no case will I accept a project for course credit after noon 11 December.

(2) I'm also requiring five shorter (2 pp. or so) papers, which (along with your in-class participation performance) will constitute the primary evidence of whether or not you are regularly preparing for class. These papers needn't be researched or heavily documented. Each of these papers should address a different one of the course texts. For any (or all) of these papers, you may design your own topic or you may write on one of the "quiz questions" (q-qs) that I'll be announcing or handing out prior to the second day of each of the 10 units; if you choose to respond to one of these q-qs your paper will be due at the beginning of the class announced as the due date for that topic (which will usually be either the second or the third day of that unit); persistent lateness of submission will of course result in lower grades. In no case will I accept any of these papers for credit after the last class meeting on that text.
      You may decide which five or more assignments to submit--i.e., you may elect, without penalty, to decline to respond to any five of the ten texts, or you may elect to respond to 6, 7, 8, 9, or all 10.

(3) You will also be making at least one short (10-15 minute) in-class presentation that speaks to one of the course texts; these presentations will typically be mini-lectures or interrogations of the text resigned to elicit class discussion of what you take to be important issues or problems associated with the text.

(4) There will be a final examination in this course, and it will very likely be designed to test your grasp of the function of particular key images and symbols that appear in these texts as well as your ability to relate the texts to one another in terms of various recurrent themes, motifs, and contemporaneous concerns. The final exam will happen on the day already scheduled by the Registrar, W 12 December (2-5 pm).

(5) The term project will count about 25% of the overall course grade. Q-q papers and in-class presentation will account for between 40% and 50% of the overall grade. The final exam will account for between 20% and 30% of the overall grade.
      Note the slushiness in these percentages. The slush is deliberate, in part because it allows me to weigh things slightly in your favor but mainly to allow me to consider the quality of your class participation when calculating your final grade. The percentages, you'll note, allow up to 15% of the final grade (potentially the difference between a B and a C-, for instance) to be determined either positively or negatively by in-class participation or lack thereof.

The University requires me to state in writing my attendance policy for this course. It's simple enough: it is my policy to expect regular class attendance of everyone who expects to receive credit for having taken the course. As I see it, missing 10% or more of scheduled classes constitutes excessive absence; therefore, if you are absent from more than three classes then your final earned grade for the course, as determined by the formula stated in (5) above, will be reduced by .33 GP per additional absence. Be forewarned: "absent" means absent, regardless of whether one's reason(s) or motive(s) for being absent are good ones or bad ones and regardless of whether one has a dean's/coach's/doctor's explanation or not.

Here is the day-by-day course schedule. You'll note that the schedule is composed mostly of three- or four-day blocks, each block devoted to one of the texts. I've also sketched in a series of (admittedly cryptic) topic phrases meant to suggest some important literary critical issues raised and/or addressed by each text. Generally, I'll expect you to have read about 1/3 to 1/2 of a text on the first day of the block and to have read all of the text by the second day of the block.

W 29 -  
F 31     
     collapse of social consensus, rise of anti-realism; The Bomb and "cold war" mentality; pop existentialism and nihilism
M 3 SEP - M 10      John Barth, The Floating Opera (1956, 1967)
     "nihilistic comedy"; The Case vs. versions of The Case; coping with absolute uncertainty
W 12 -   
M 17      
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle (1963)
    "fiction" vs. "foma"; Science and Religion; the intrinsic violence of belief
W 19 -   
M 24     
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1971)
    the quiet beginnings of A Silent[/silenced] Majority; repression/oppression
W 26 -   
M 1      
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962)
    conformity and freedom; pop Freudianism
W 3 OCT-
W 10     
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
    social and psychological entropy: culture/counterculture, system and chaos; 20c paranoia
F 12     
M 15     
midterm exam
-- Fall break --
W 17 -   
W 24      
Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Voyeur (1955, 1958)
neo-Hum[e]anism and the "New Novel"
F 26       -- TBA --
M 29 -   
F 2       
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)
M 5 NOV-
F 9       
Tim O'Brien, Going After Cacciato (1978)
    novelling the Vietnam experience; realism vs. surrealism
M 12      Cacciato; Ceremony
W 14 -   
M 19      
Leslie Silko, Ceremony (1977)
    "circular" vs. "linear" plotting; "story" as pretext for "history" as text
W 21 -   
F 23       
-- Thanksgiving vacation --
M 26 -   
M 3       
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
    fiction and values; deconstructing context; from "Thing" to "Event"
W 5     
F 7       
- wrap-ups -

For those who have world enough and time: below are some other novels that could easily have been included in the syllabus for this course (and have been included, from time to time, in versions of this course taught here during the past 25 years).
        Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
        Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955), Pale Fire (1962)
        Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
        John Barth, The End of the Road (1958, 1967), Giles Goat-Boy (1966)
        John Knowles, A Separate Peace (1960)
        John Updike, Rabbit, Run (1960), The Centaur (1963)
        Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)
        John Hawkes, The Lime Twig (1961), Second Skin (1964)
        Thomas Pynchon, V. (1963)
        Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964), Mr. Sammler's Planet (1969)
        Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird (1965)
        George Herbert, Dune (1965)
        Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America (1967)
        Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night (1968)
        Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
        E. L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel (1971)
        Ishmael Reed, Mumbo-Jumbo (1972)
        Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (1977)

some other major "outside" influences:
        Jorge Luis Borges, A Personal Anthology (1961, 1967)
        Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, 1970)
        John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969)
        Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962, 1963)