Experimental form, a breakdown between high and low culture, a distrust and subversion of authority, and hyperbolic self-referentiality are just a few of the hallmarks of postmodernism, a notoriously slippery concept that is the focus of this graduate seminar. But what else is postmodernism? Is it a literary movement? A moment in history? An economic condition? A state of mind? We may not arrive at a definitive answer to these questions, but the novels and theoretical texts we will encounter in this seminar suggest that postmodernism is marked by a fundamental shift in our relationship to technology, mass media, and pop culture. We will study a few “classics” of postmodernism, but we will concentrate our attention on the more recent texts of “late postmodernism,” novels, graphic novels, and new media works that seem to have at once exhausted the limits of postmodernism and gestured toward even greater innovative storytelling forms.
- Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
- Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe Of Heaven (1972)
- Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975)
- Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
- Don DeLillo, Mao II (1991)
- Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange (1997)
- Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves (2000)
- Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (2004)
- Salvador Plascencia, The People of Paper (2005)
- Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman, Shooting War (2007)
In addition to the written work detailed below, I expect everyone to carefully read and consider the weekly reading. Most of our class time will be given over to discussion, and it is essential that everyone attends and participate. If you cannot attend ENGL 660 regularly, staying until each session ends at 7:10 pm, please reconsider your decision to enroll.
Students are responsible for verifying their enrollment in this class. The last day to add this course is February 4, 2009. The last day to drop this course is February 20, 2009. After the last day to drop a class, withdrawal from this class requires the approval of the dean and is only allowed for nonacademic reasons.
The required work for ENGL 660 takes several forms: (1) weekly blogging, (2) a class presentation, (3) a mid-semester project, (4) an annotated bibliography, and (5) a research paper. Each component will be worth a fifth of your final grade.
- Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 500-word response to the week’s readings. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it. In any case, strive for thoughtfulness and nuance. To ensure that everyone has a chance to read the blog before class, post your response by midnight the evening before class.
- Every student will also prepare a class presentation, which introduces some critical aspect of the day’s reading. The presentation should go well beyond mere summary of the reading. This is your chance to lead class discussion, essentially “teaching” the reading, offering your interpretation of the theory or novel at hand, and situating it within the context of our overall consideration of postmodern culture. The presentation should be pedagogical, insightful, lively, provocative, even playful. I encourage you to incorporate multimedia into your presentation when appropriate. The presentation should last roughly ten minutes and at the end, invite further discussion. I will ask you to provide me a copy of your notes/outlines/handouts/slideshows on the day of your presentation. Students are not required to post to the blog the week of their presentation.
- The mid-semester project is a non-traditional project that emphasizes what the literary critic Franco Moretti calls the opposite of close reading, that is, “a distant reading” of one of our texts. This project is due March 4. There will be no blogging required this week.
- The annotated bibliography is a catalyst for your final research paper, in which you explore some of the recent academic scholarship related to your research agenda. The bibliography is due April 8.
- The research paper is a 10-12 page seminar paper that requires you to frame and sustain an argument about a postmodern text, and place that argument within the broader cultural conversation about the text you are studying. This research paper is due May 6.
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. George Mason University has an Honor Code, which requires all members of this community to maintain the highest standards of academic honesty and integrity. Cheating, plagiarism, lying, and stealing are all prohibited. All violations of the Honor Code will be reported to the Honor Committee. See honorcode.gmu.edu for more detailed information.
If you do not own a style guide that covers MLA format, I recommend getting one. I also encourage you to use Zotero, a freely available open source reference manager for Windows and Mac, which runs as a Firefox extension. See http://www.zotero.org for more information.
If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please see me and contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at 703-993-2474. All academic accommodations must be arranged through that office.
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