Syllabus

Is postmodernism an artistic movement, a social phenomenon, an economic condition, or simply a state of mind? Is it the progeny of modernism or its antithesis? Or is it something else entirely? While we will certainly discuss questions like these in this seminar, our goal is not to provide definitive answers but rather to understand the present historical moment through the texts and objects produced in it. Whether we argue that the postmodern era was ushered in with the assassination of JFK in 1963, the opening of Disney World in 1971, or some other entirely arbitrary event, it is clear that Americans of the last several decades have witnessed a fundamental shift in our relationship to technology, mass media, and consumer culture. In this course we will consider texts, films, artwork, music, and other cultural artifacts that revel in, critique, or even resist these elements of postmodernism.

READING

  • The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Lathe of Heaven (1971) by Ursula Le Guin
  • The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ
  • Song of Solomon (1977) by Toni Morrison
  • The Intuitionist (1999) by Colson Whitehead
  • Dream Jungle (2003) by Jessica Hagedorn
  • White Noise (1985) by Don DeLillo
  • Fight Club (1996) by Chuck Palahniuk
  • In the Shadow of No Towers (2005) by Art Spiegelman

There is also a required course reader, available at the GMU bookstore. Finally, there will be occasional handouts and online readings as well.

FILMS

  • Memento (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2000)
  • Donnie Darko (Dir. Richard Kelly, 2001)
  • Fight Club (Dir. David Fincher, 1999)

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

There are no prerequisites for ENGL 660 / CULT 860, other than an open, yet analytical frame of mind. And of course, I trust you enjoy and appreciate literature.

The reading load for American Postmodernism is quite demanding, and I expect everyone to keep pace. Much of our class time will be given to discussion, and it is essential that everyone attends and participate.

Your written work will take a number of forms, ranging from informal, tentative writings to more formal papers. The most exploratory writings will be weekly contributions to the class blog. There are different ways to approach the blog writing, which should be 300-500 words in length. It’s often productive to begin with an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you. You may want to formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions. You may also want to respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it. You may also want to weave in your reflections of postmodernism that arise from things you’ve read, heard, or seen on your own. To ensure that everyone has a chance to read the blog before class, you must post your response by 8 AM the morning of class in order for it to count as your post for the week.

Every student will also prepare a short research report, inspired by some aspect of the day’s reading, but which draws from outside sources as well. Think of the report as a supplement to the day’s reading, in which you provide a new perspective informed by both the reading and your outside research. A version of this report will be presented to the class and will serve as one of the foundations for the day’s discussion. The report should be pedagogical, insightful, lively, provocative, even playful. I encourage you to incorporate multimedia into your presentation when appropriate. The presentation should be limited to ten minutes, after which you’ll hand in the written version of the report.

There will also be a mid-semester essay of 6-8 pages and a final essay of 12-15 pages. I will hand out detailed descriptions of these assignments later in the semester. Final grades will be calculated by equal consideration of participation, the blog, the report/presentation, the mid-semester essay, and the final essay.

A NOTE ABOUT RESEARCH

Remember that all written assignments must follow MLA research guidelines. Never take credit for someone else’s ideas or words and always document your sources. If you do not own a style guide that covers MLA format, I recommend getting one. I also encourage you to use EndNote, a reference manager for Windows and Mac, which is offered free to all GMU students. You can download EndNote here: https://chimera.gmu.edu/endnote/prod/.