The Modern Novel


        English 223 is a survey of some major postwar American novels. This course is designed to satisfy the General Education literary studies ("FSLT") requirement. FSLT courses are supposed to concentrate on textual interpretation; they are supposed to prompt you to analyze how meaning is (or, at least, may be) constructed by verbal artists and their audiences. Such courses are also supposed to give significant attention to how texts are created and received, to the historical and cultural contexts in which they are created and received, and to the relationship of texts to one another. In this course we will be doing all these things as we study the variety of techniques created by postwar American novelists to articulate new visions of the human condition and of man's relationship to a world changing, and then changed forever, in the wake of America's creation of, and use of, the prototypical WMD, the atomic bomb in 1945.

        FSLT courses are also supposed to pay some attention to competing critical methodologies, that is, to the idea that how we see and think often influences, and sometimes even determines, what we see and think. To this end we will be considering a variety of critical approaches, including approaches created specifically to deal with this particular body of literature.


Consistent with the University's policy I'll expect "each student . . . to attend all meetings of all classes" (2004-2006 Undergraduate Catalog, p. 36). In order to honor "official notification[s] from the appropriate dean that a student is to be excused for participation in a University-sponsored event" (36) as well as to accommodate the occasional genuine emergency that requires absence from class, I'm allowing for the possibility of three unpenalized (including "excused") absences; however, in any case, if you miss 4 or more class meetings, your final grade will go down by .33 GP per absence after the third absence.
        I'll be taking roll at the beginning of class; if you get to class late, you risk being counted absent, and it will be your responsibility to inform me at the end of that class of your presence.


I am also required by University policy to require you to pledge all written work submitted for credit in this course. I hereby require you to do so. I'll expect you to write out your pledge on all written work submitted for credit; I will not accept for credit any work that is not pledged; and I promise to be absolutely intolerant of cheating of any kind in this course.


PAPERS: You'll be writing at least six short (2-4 pp.) essays, one on each of six different novels covered in the course. Which six novels you choose to treat is up to you, but each essay should be submitted prior to class discussion of the topic or issue or passage of prose the essay focuses on and must be submitted no later than one day after class discussion of the novel that the essay treats. These may be either "response"-type essays (responding to a particular passage or episode or issue raised in the text you're writing about, or responding to a particular class discussion of one of the texts) or exploratory essays (focused on a short passage that throws light on, or raises a question about, the longer text) or even argumentative essays; they must not be mere rehash of class discussion or mere plot summary. Taken together, these papers will account for 50-60% of your final grade.

DAILY ASSESSMENT: Your participation in class discussion and debate, combined with whatever evidence of class preparation is implicit in your shorter essays, will account for 15% of your final grade.

EXAMS: There will be a midterm exam, and it will be given at one time only: Friday 3 March. There will also be a final examination, and it will be a comprehensive one; it will be administered at one time only: Thu 4 May 2:00-5:00 p.m. Taken together these two exams will account for 30-40% of your final grade.

FINAL GRADE: You'll notice that there is some slush in these numbers. This is to give me leeway to weight things in your favor. It also gives me leeway to raise your final grade if your class participation has been especially good (or to lower the grade if participation has been especially poor).


M 16 {abbrev.}
W 18    WWII and collapse of social consensus: individual vs. annihilation
 F 20    philosophical fallout: existentialism, nihilism

1. Existentialism, nihilism, and self-(re-)invention / Barth, The Floating Opera (1956, 1967)
M 23    through ch. xi
W 25    through ch. xxi
F 27   all

2. Dangerous desire: engagement and annihilation / Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle (1963)
M 30    through ch. 39
W 1      through ch. 90
F 3      all

3. "These are the tranquillized '50s": disengagement and annihilation / Plath, The Bell Jar (1963, 1971)
M 6      through ch. 9
W 8      through ch. 14
 F 10    {t.b.a.}
M 13    all

4. "They're out there": conformity and resistance / Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962)
W 15    through Part 1
 F 17     through Part 3
M 20    all

5. "Man's best dream, and worst": antirealism, antihero / Hawkes, The Lime Twig (1961)
W 22    through ch. 1
 F 24     through ch. 3
M 27     through ch. 7
W 1      all

F 3     -midterm exam-


6. Cybernetics, entropy, waiting for Godot / Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
M 13     ch. 1
W 15    through ch. 4
F 17     through ch. 5
M 20    all

7. Healing vision; tradition and renewal / Silko, Ceremony (1977)
W 22    "Mapping the Embedded Texts" (http://oncampus.r ichmond.edu/~rnelson/mapping/ch2.mapping.html);
             "Rewriting Ethnography" (http://oncampus.richmond.e du/~rnelson/ethnography.html)
 F 24     through p. 106
M 27     through p. 169
W 29     through p. 215
 F 31     all

8. "Just pretending": memory, imagination, and possibility / O'Brien, Going After Cacciato (1978)
M 3       through ch. 4
W 5       through ch. 20
 F 7       {t.b.a.}
M 10      through ch. 42
W 12     all

9. Repairing the breach: redefining reality / Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
 F 14     chs. 1-2
M 17     through ch. 7
W 19     through ch. 12
 F 21      through ch. 20
M 24     through ch. 29
W 26     all

 F 28      wrap-ups