Mark Danner

PoMo: Exploring the Landscape of Postmodernism


Exploring the Landscape of Postmodernism

Spring 2020// English 166 // T, Th 3:30 – 5 // Mulford 240

Mark Danner

Postmodernism is one of those peculiar words, like “nonfiction,” that struggles to define something by what it is not. Or rather, in this case, by what it comes after: Postmodernism was what came after modernism. In this seminar we’ll attempt to go beyond that rather empty surmise to the self-regarding, fragmented, multiform, satyric, parodic, pastichey works themselves. That means readings from Borges to Burroughs to Barth and Barthelme, from Calvino to Carter to DeLillo to Heller to Pynchon and Toni Morrison to Whitehead. Others besides, all in the service of answering the nagging questions: What did come after Modernism? How exactly should we think about it? And where oh where did it go?

Course Lectures



Class Requirements This seminar will be a mixture of lectures and discussion, backed up by a large amount of reading, some student presentations and a little writing. The most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Keep up with reading and writing assignments

*Participate in discussions

*Deliver one presentation on a subject related to postmodernism

*Complete the final examination

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the quality of his or her writing, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade. Students who miss classes will not do well in this course.

Schedule Note that all classes will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 pm in Mulford 240.

Reading Our primary reading will draw on the classics of postmodernism, both novels and short stories. They are listed below under Required Texts.

I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies and in the edition specified, either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that we will all be “on the same page” and so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them.

Some excerpts from critical essays collected in the sourcebooks listed below will be distributed as supplemental reading during the semester.

Presentations Students will make one presentation on the theme of the course, with a colleague, in some way tied to the current reading. Use of multimedia and social media during the presentation is strongly encouraged.

Favorite Passages During your reading please make sure to select each one favorite or representative passage that you can offer to the class when called on. These passages should exemplify something about the book or the author that you think is important to the themes of the class – or simply important to you.

Writing Depending on response to the reading there may be an occasional in-class quiz, which will be short “pop” quizzes presented at the beginning of class.

Each student will complete one short paper on themes raised in the course or a text discussed in it or both. “Short” means two to three pages.

To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest studying two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language” and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style.

Office Hours I will count on meeting with each of you individually at least once during the term. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at My offices are Wheeler 229 and North Gate 32. My writing, speaking, biography and other information can be found at my website,

Final Examination The final exam will be made up of questions with short answers whose purpose is to ensure, first, that you have read the books, second, that you have listened to and absorbed the discussions, and third, that you have acquired some mastery over what we have read and discussed together. If you attend class and do the reading you will, with little or no additional preparation, do well on the test.

Grading Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work, as follows:

Attendance            30 percent

Participation          30 percent

Writing                  20 percent

Presentation           20 percent

Required Texts

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [first published: 1964 – 79])

Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56])

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])

Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979])

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])

Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])

David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])

Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days (Anchor, 2002 [2001])

Recommended Sourcebooks

Lawrence Cahoone (ed.), From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology (Blackwell, 2003)

Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity (Duke, 1987)

Paula Geyn et al (eds.), Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology (Norton, 1998)

Joseph Natoli and Linda Hutcheon (eds), A Postmodern Reader (SUNY, 1993)


Tentative Syllabus

Note: Tentative means the schedule may change. Some short essays may be added and particular stories and excerpts specified with page numbers. Stay tuned.

January 21 – PoMo: An Unending Longing to Define

On the many meanings of a big, greasy word. Era, style, philosophy. The question of periodization. Are we in it? Or of it? PoMo and truth: a dip into politics. A few short examples. Borges and the pliability of time. Barthelme and tragedy.

Required Reading:  Jorge Luis Borges, “Kafka and his Precursors”

Donald Barthelme, “The School”

January 23 – Borges and the Modern/Postmodern Borderland

Finding the seam: when did Modernism become something else? And what exactly was that else? The short story and essay. The story as philosophical problem. The story as intellectual pastiche. What do stories do? On Borges and Barthelme.

Required Reading: Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56]), pp. 9 – 65.

Ihad Hassan, “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism”                             

January 28 – Borges, Barthelme and the Metaphysics of Storytelling

What makes a story a story? Theme and enigma. Do we need character? What exactly is realism and what does it do?

Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56]), pp. 65 – 174.

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [1964 – 79]), pp. 1 – 120.

January 30 – Tragic Cartoons: Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [1964 – 79]), pp. 121 – 444, with specific stories to be named.

February 4 – So It Goes: Firebomb Dresden, Napalm Vietnam

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])

February 6 – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])

February 11 – William Burroughs: Punks, Beats, Drug-Fueled Dreams

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])

February 13 – William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])

February 18 – Postmodern Paranoia: Pynchon’s America

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])

February 20 – Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])

February 25 – Ouroboros: Calvino’s Self-Consuming Story

Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979])

February 27 — Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979])

March 3 – Pastiche, Fairy Tales, Women’s Voices: Carter’s Fables

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])

March 5 – Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])

March 10 – Marilynne Robinson’s Pilgrim Quest

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

March 12 – Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

March 24, 26 – Spring Break (No Class: Read Catch-22)

March 31 – Slapstick of Total War: Heller’s World

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])

April 2 – Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])

April 7 – Persistence of Airborne Toxic Events: DeLillo’s Prophesy

Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])

April 9 – Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])

April 14 – Unburying History: Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])

April 16 – Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])

April 21 – Dystopia or Paranoia? Markson’s Cracked Mirror

David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

April 23 – David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])

May 5 – Charging Culture’s Theme Park: Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days (Anchor, 2002 [2001])

May 7 – Colson Whitehead, John Henry Days (Anchor, 2002 [2001])

May [Date TBD] – Final Examination (Short Answers)


Annotated Syllabus



January 21 – PoMo: An Unending Longing to Define


On the many meanings of a big, greasy word. Era, style, philosophy. The question of periodization. Are we in it? Or of it? PoMo and truth: a dip into politics. A few short examples. Borges and the pliability of time. Barthelme and tragedy.


Required Reading:  Jorge Luis Borges, “Kafka and his Precursors”

Donald Barthelme, “The School”


Class Notes:


  • Postmodernism is a literary and artistic era beginning after WWII
    • Are we still in the postmodern era?
    • Characteristics include self-awareness/metafiction and absurdity within the plot
      • What does “meta” mean? History of itself; self-referential
      • Reflexivity: fiction about fiction
    • All these descriptions are very unspecific
      • It’s trying to locate a kind of era and intellectual art
      • We’re not exactly sure where it started and where it ended/if it’s still continuing
    • Initially used to describe buildings emerging in the 1960s
      • Ex: Disney Hall looks like a wave and is sort of figurative (designed by Frank Gehry)
    • Modernist Building are much different from postmodernist
      • Modernism had an austere philosophy for architecture
        • “form follows function”
      • Ex: Seagram Building in New York is a straight, black glass, unornamented building (designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson
    • Postmodern architecture is more popular than modern because it is more ornamented and pleasurable
    • Not everything in the postmodern era is necessarily postmodern
    • Some recent postmodern buildings include the Salesforce Building and BAMPFA
      • PoMo is predicated on irony
      • These buildings talk to us because they have screens
    • Irony: The opposite of what is expected to happen, happens
    • Does BAMPFA’s architecture undermine the seriousness of the museum?
    • Postmodernist opt to be less serious and more ironic
    • The past, which cannot be destroyed because then there will be silence, we must revisit with irony
      • Our age is one of lost innocence
    • Neoclassical architecture: we live in the shadow of it
      • Buildings like the MET and the Supreme Court remind us that we are entering western culture and the myth of dominance
    • British thought of themselves as the dominant western culture
      • The metanarrative is that they were the most powerful and thought they should spread this “dominant” culture
      • Marxism and class struggle are metanarratives
      • Freudianism is another metanarrative
    • In the broad sense, PoMo’s key attribute, identified by Lyotard, is the end of metanarrative and the treatment of metanarrative ironically
    • French Writers who became famous in the 60s wrote a lot of theory about PoMo
  • The School by Donald Barthelme
    • It’s a monologue
    • Extremely casual
    • Missing some things: no dialogue, no real context, no kids’ names (except those who died)
    • Story has an implied listener
    • We’re used to realism, so we recognize weirdness
    • The story has two strong turns
      • The Korean orphan
        • Surprising but strangely expected, thus making it absurd
      • Ending part



January 23 – Borges and the Modern/Postmodern Borderland


Finding the seam: when did Modernism become something else? And what exactly was that else? The short story and essay. The story as philosophical problem. The story as intellectual pastiche. What do stories do? On Borges and Barthelme.


Required Reading:

  • Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56]), pp. 9 – 65
  • Ihad Hassan, “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism”


Suggested Reading:


Class Notes:


  • Jorge Luis Borges
    • Borges’s stories oftentimes have many real people in them
      • However, they haven’t always written what he says they’ve written
    • He deals with idealism and concepts of what is real v not real
    • These stories are from the 1940s, but suddenly became popular in the 1960s
    • Borges was from Argentina but spent a lot of time in Europe
    • He and Samuel Becket shared an international prize for literature in 1961
    • Barthelme:
      • Born around 35 years after Borges
      • One of the founders of Postmodern literature
    • “The School” by Barthelme
      • Ellipses make it feel far more casual—it’s not very descriptive
      • Concepts of being individually responsible
        • The children are responsible for what they take care of, but are they responsible for their deaths?
      • Life and death—everything is passing
        • The story is ultimately about death
      • Do we really know how old the kids are?
      • He’s playing with the reader’s expectation of what a story should be
      • There isn’t a plot, but there is a gradual intensification off the stakes
      • The children don’t understand death, but neither does Edgar, really
      • When the gerbil appears, we know he will eventually die
    • Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius” by Borges
      • Borges worked with and was influenced by Louis Aragon, a French surrealist
      • He was part of the young avant-garde of Argentina
      • He became a Newspaper editor when he was around 30
        • He wrote many stories for this paper
        • His fiction was hardly distinguishable from his nonfiction
      • “Mirrors are grotesque”
        • Because they create more people—likens mirrors to copulation
      • Mirrors make a blurred line between fiction and reality
      • There are many mirrors in this story
      • Borges steers towards Plato and maybe even critiques him
      • Idealism: the philosophy that reality is real because of our perception of it
      • Tlon is idealism without any backstop
      • Borges constructs a whole world based on idealism
        • Plays out paradoxes in this world
      • Tlon becomes real in two ways
        • People reading about it and learning about it in school
        • People finding artifacts from it
          • The two artifacts that appear are a compass and a heavy cone
        • There is no independent existence of anything, so can we create anything?
        • Descartes said “I think therefore I am”
        • Gnostic: an extreme Platonist who believes the world is an illusion—Gnostics hate the world



January 28 – Borges, Barthelme and the Metaphysics of Storytelling


What makes a story a story? Theme and enigma. Do we need character? What exactly is realism and what does it do?


  • Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Grove, 1994 [1962] [1941 – 56]), pp. 65 – 174.
  • Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [1964 – 79]), pp. 1 – 120.


Suggested Reading:



Class Notes:


  • In 1921, Ulysses and The Wasteland were both published
  • Modernism began around 1914 with the war
    • WWI interrupted a time of very little world conflict
    • 20-25 million people died
    • Modern technology that was supposed to improve life was used to destroy it
  • Key decade of PoMo was the 1960s
    • started around 1945
    • Death toll of WWII was around 55 million people
      • It was apocalyptic
      • they were killed in an industrial fashion
    • Produced by a country considered “civilized”
    • 6 million people died in the holocaust
  • What do Barthelme and Borges have to do with this?
    • Barthelme’s “The Game” is very apocalyptic
      • irrationalism, war
    • Borges said there were four devices of great literature
      • work within the work
        • evident in many of his short stories
        • in media res
        • fictional world within the fictional world
        • formula: mise en abyme (putting into an abyss)
      • Contamination of reality by dreams
        • imagination
        • reality is unstable
        • “The Circular Ruins”
      • Voyage in Time
        • Things occur again and again
        • The Secret Miracle
        • Time is malleable
      • The Double
    • For Borges, history is cyclical
      • most of his stories take place in the past or in some indeterminate time
    • “Pierre Menard”
      • arcana: secret knowledge
      • Destroys his own argument about changing the game of chess
        • Doesn’t really have an effect on the objective world
      • Something willfully playful about destroying what you make
        • Almost absurd
        • stays in the realm of imagination–exists only in the mind
      • “The South”
        • Dahlmann suffers an injury and is charged
          • injury is autobiographical–Borges once hit his head while carrying a copy of A Thousand and One Nights
          • reminiscent of Funes
        • “Funes”
          • Funes is mentally and physically paralyzed
          • He cannot escape the power of his own mind
        • “Babylon Lottery”
          • culture and time period of PoMo fit into the story
            • mass death and the search for an explanation
            • question of free will or the absence of it
          • What does the Company represent?
            • religion
              • gives reason to determinacy
            • “Garden of Forking Paths”
              • The book inside is strangely the ultimate realist novel because it offers choices as in real life
              • Discusses the novel in a novel, voyage through time, and arguably the double
              • Same title for Borges’s very first collection
              • Bifurcating series of choices, but he happens to pick the one connected to his ancestor
              • Why does something stir in his memory?
                • either it is a reference to him remembering his ancestor or
                • this has happened before




January 30 – Tragic Cartoons: Donald Barthelme


  • Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (Penguin, 2003 [1964 – 79]), pp. 121 – 444, with specific stories to be named.



Class Notes:


  • Similarities and differences between Borges and Barthelme
    • short stories
    • Both use humor
      • Barthelme has a sort of quirkier style
      • both have a sense of play
    • Barthelme makes more jokes and is more fragmented
    • Their relationship to realism is different, but they are both distinctly distanced from it
    • They both play with the story’s form
  • Characteristics of Realism
    • everyman character
    • uniform narrative time
    • consistent reality
    • plot, which implies a narrative shape
    • characters
      • character development
    • Characteristics of Postmodernism
      • non sequitur
      • open-ended
        • open-endedness keeps the story echoing
        • it’s fertile
      • Not always a traditional climax
        • “The School” is an escalation story
      • There is progress and narrative movement, but not in a conventional way
      • “Flat” characters
    • “The Falling Dog”
      • not really about the dog
      • similar to Kafka’s Metamorphosis in that something absurd and unexplained occurs
        • “The Balloon” is most similar to Metamorphosis
        • “Views of My Father Weeping” is similar to Kafka’s first story, “The Judgment”
      • Barthelme wanted to “find freshness in a much used language”
      • Barthelme is interested in different kinds of speech
        • spontaneous
        • all kinds of voices–> mixture of voices
        • sometimes very matter-of-fact
        • anachronism
          • Cortes and Montezuma riding in a limousine
            • Borges subjects time whereas Barthelme uses it for play and fun
          • Barthelme is interested in collage
            • influenced by pop art, Lichtenstein
            • uses appropriation, allusions, sampling
          • “The Falling Dog” continued
            • the ‘poems’ are the notes of the sculptor
              • trying to develop his next work
            • This is a story that does indeed progress
              • not in a normal sense
                • no conflict or climax
              • we don’t know how real any of it really is
              • We’re witnessing the process of creation
              • It’s as though he’s explaining his artwork to someone and making up a story of how he was inspired
              • The image of the falling dog replaces the yawning man
                • he’s made thousands of yawning men, thus mocking the commodification of art
              • Barthelme’s father was a modernist architect and he grew up in a modernist home
              • “We like stories that have a lot of drek in them”
                • Barthelme says this to suggest that realist books waste themselves on superfluous description
                  • he says realism is a series of agreements about how to fake the world
                • “Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning” has a date at the end that is a few months before his assassination
                  • it was written before the assassination though
                • “The Balloon”
                  • one of Barthelme’s most famous stories
                  • Third paragraph is sort of about how we experience art
                    • why bother trying to figure it out
                    • Go to it, experience it, enjoy it
                  • Last couple paragraphs
                    • blather of sociological discussion
                    • The balloon eventually becomes accepted as normal (sort of a joke about New York)
                  • Was the speaker truly responsible for the balloon or not?





February 4 – So It Goes: Firebomb Dresden, Napalm Vietnam


  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])


Suggested Reading:



Class Notes:


  • Best-selling PoMo novel
  • This book has a preoccupation with Dresden as well as Vietnam
    • the children of the soldiers of WWII fight in Vietnam
    • The two are linked with many things
      • for instance, napalm
    • Slaughterhouse Five rose to the #4 on the bestseller list and stayed there for 16 weeks
    • One of the most frequently banned books in America
      • Judge in Michigan called i vulgar, depraved, psychotic and antichristian
    • What makes it PoMo
      • time travel–makes narrative fragmented, grammar travels through time as well
        • confusion of whether or not Vonnegut is SciFi
      • Self-reflexive–meta narrative
      • The book is composed of reappearing chunks
        • Vonnegut said his books are a mosaic made of chips and each chip is a joke
        • His characters reappear in several of his other books as well
        • The random chunks sometimes work as epithets
          • Edgar Derby is always referenced along with his death
        • What is the linear narrative?
          • The Dresden past, primarily
        • Is there a naturalistic explanation for the plot?
          • Yes, the SciFi explanation is that he really is unstuck in time but the naturalistic explanation is that this is the result of PTSD
        • Many absurd deaths throughout the book
          • Billy’s father being shot by a friend while deer hunting
        • Slaughterhouse Five was an underground meat locker of stone
          • absurd that it saves them from destruction
        • Dresden is described as a fantasy land, but we never really get a clear, detailed description
        • Fire bombing is bombing with a mixture of high explosives and then incendiary bombs
          • trying to create a firestorm where fire develops its own momentum and forms a tornado
        • “So it goes” appears 106 times
        • War culture is sort of more a daily reminder that we forget nowadays
        • What is the sentiment that keeps the book going as a working narrative?
          • unique perception of time and triviality, which enables Billy to find humanity in crazy situations
        • Many things we experience second hand
          • we learn about Billy’s trauma through other people
        • Billy is passive and in some ways his experience with the Tralfamadorians makes him more numb to everything
        • The theme of this novel is more about cruelty than death
        • When Vonnegut is at the motel in Boston, he reads two things
          • Words for the Wind, which has a poem that hints at free will
          • The Gideon Bible chronicling the destruction of Sodom and Gamorrah, which hints more at an absence of free will
        • From the Gideon Bible, Lot’s wife turns back at the destruction and is turned into a pillar of salt
          • Vonnegut call himself a pillar of salt because he is looking back
        • It’s a deeply moral book, but it creates its own moral structures
        • Vonnegut revisits his past through this novel
          • What does it do to you to revisit your past?
          • He calls the book a failure because it was written by a pillar of salt
            • his looking back mortifies himself
            • Looking back is reminiscent of the story of Orpheus
          • There is a shape to the book, ending on a question
          • Billy had a meek faith in a loving Jesus that most soldiers found putrid
          • He plays the organ at various churches because of his mother, but she never picks one
            • Billy is Jesus–passivity in suffering, feeling things in a unique way
              • he’s an antihero, but also not



February 6


  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (Dial, 1999 [1969])



Class Notes:


  • Kurt Vonnegut and Science Fiction (Landon and Cooper’s presentation)
    • Born in 1922
    • Went to Cornell
      • Studied Biochem
    • joined the airforce
    • worked as a reporter
    • then worked in PR for GE
      • left in 1950 to work as a full time writer
    • Elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    • Died in 2007
    • Genre v literary
      • In genre, plot comes first, there is a more traditional/basic narrative, and there are often impossible or fantastic events
      • In literary fiction, there is a focus on characters, there is experimental and complex structure, and there is a focus on social issues
        • this is what is considered more high art
      • Science Fiction deals with imaginative and futuristic/alternate realities
        • confusion of genre v literary
        • often has elements of advanced science and tech
        • soft sci fi takes more creative liberties and has less of a concern for plausibility
        • hard scifi is more rooted in reality and actual science
      • Vonnegut’s first two novels, Player Piano and Sirens of Titan, were more Sci Fi-esque and were marketed as such
        • Vonnegut didn’t like this so he started to deviate from SciFi a little bit
        • Player Piano was partly inspired by his time at GE
      • Slaughterhouse 5 is where the genres begin to blend more
        • there are elements of genre fiction and literary fiction
      • One of the most notable traits of PoMo is its blending of different genres as well as high and low art
        • meshing contradictions
      • SciFi is a very young genre
        • first really began in the late 1800s
        • HG Wells is the honorary father of SciFi
      • Postmodernism dissolves categories
        • it is aware that the categories are about power and economics
        • There’s pastiche
          • Pastiche is something made up of different elements
        • SciFi itself is a type of pastiche
        • PoMo takes acid to these categories of genre and literary fiction and to literary authority
          • These categories are historically determined
          • PoMo has trouble with authority and meta-narrative
        • Vonnegut struggled to find literary respect
          • he was mixing categories and that is part of what makes him PoMo
        • Slaughterhouse 5 is also somewhat humanist
          • it’s antiwar
        • Billy’s last name is Pilgrim
          • it has a religious meaning
          • Vonnegut makes a pilgrimage back to Dresden in the first chapter and he makes biblical allusions as well
        • Billy goes by ‘Billy’ for business reasons, but it also makes him more childish
          • The Children’s Crusade
        • What is the drive behind Billy’s pilgrimage?
          • Is this all compensation for his PTSD?
        • If we read it as a realist piece, this new vision of time is compensation for what he’s lost
        • The book is a complete take down of the narrative of Christianity (if read from a PoMo perspective)
        • Billy tries to reconstruct a world where he is unstuck in time, there’s been this mass cruelty, and his faith can’t help
        • The novel is both Satire and SciFi
          • in a literary sense, SciFi belongs to satire–it’s using a narrative of the future to critique the present




February 11 – William Burroughs: Punks, Beats, Drug-Fueled Dreams


  • William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])


Suggested Reading:




Class Notes:


  • Book went to the Massachusetts Supreme Court in a case against its obscenity, but it was deemed not obscene
  • You can intersect the text at any point
    • the book is deeply unconventional
  • Many consider the novel immoral
    • It critiques middle class morality
  • It’s sort of a literary experiment
  • Burroughs was partially interested in Dadaism
    • Ginsberg and Kerouac helped him chop his original 1,000 page draft of Naked Lunch into what it is today
  • 1954-58 Burroughs lived in Tangier
    • Interzone–it did not belong to any country and was international
  • Drugs were fully available in the Interzone of tangier
    • So was sex, including ‘unconventional’ sex
  • Book was partially shocking because of the homosexuality
  • The beat poets were key figures in the post-war literary movements
  • This is very much a book of the 50s
    • 50s were a time of consumerism and an era of American prosperity
      • USA left WWII having 50% of the world’s GDP
      • The US was incredibly rich and prosperous and the baby boomer generations as born
      • The 50s had the Civil Rights Movement as well as McCarthyism
      • Homosexuality and any ‘unconventional’ sexuality warranted arrest and could ruin someone’s life
    • There is a large segment of society that is repressed and under threat of persecution in the midst of this prosperous society
    • All of this 50s mask of perfection cracked in the 60s giving birth to counterculture
      • The 50s is the great moment of repression
    • Various bureaucracies oppress
      • Drug bureaucracy, mental hospitals, etc.
    • “The algebra of need” –the more you have, the more you need
      • “Junk is the mold of oppression” –Burroughs
      • Given certain unknown factors in an equation with absolute need, the outcome is regardless predictable
    • Burroughs suggests that the junkies represent everyone
    • The book is a critique of American society by an exile in Tangier
    • Burroughs was a little older than some of the other beats
    • The beat philosophy dates back to Lucien Carr
      • They were big on transcendentalism and Emerson
      • Rimbaud
    • Carr had three main points of philosophy
      • Naked self expression is the key to creativity
      • An artist’s conscience is expanded by “derangement of the senses”
        • drugs, alcohol, hedonism, etc.
        • “Derangement of the senses” is a Rimbaud quote
      • Art eludes conventional morality
    • paranoia–fear of arrest, not getting what one needs, loss of control, judgment from conventional society
    • The novel is very much a pastiche
      • SciFi, travel, surrealism, pornography, detective fiction,
    • The narrator is authentic, which lends him some pretentiousness
      • his is who he is and is not hypocritical or deluded
      • he indulges his desires
    • Many of the scenes are thematic representations of the routines of coming down from a high, dreaming, fantasizing, etc.
    • Ongoing satire of American racism and violence
    • Psychoanalysis of the American psyche–particularly the darker side
    • Burroughs grew up very wealthy
      • his grandfather invented the adding machine
    • Originally from St. Louis, Missouri



February 13 – William Burroughs, Naked Lunch (Grove, 2013 [1959])


Class Notes:


  • Burroughs is a unique figure among the Beats
    • Ginsberg helped extract Naked Lunch from a 1,000 page “word horde” that Burroughs wrote between 1954 and 1958
    • The word horde wasn’t a story but rather a series of routines of coming down from a high, kicking it, etc.
  • A theme of his work is stripping away the calm face of prosperous Western society and showing the power of media and law that terrorize underneath
    • mechanisms that control people
  • Benway talking about the man who taught his asshole to talk is a very famous part of the book
    • metaphor for powers of service and consumption
    • man is reduced to only a mechanism of consumption
  • Simopath: citizen convinced that he is an ape
  • Latah: form of involuntary hypnosis and movement native to Asia
    • lack of control
  • INDs: “irreversible neural damage”–Benway produces these people
  • Image of disgusting grey, translucent monkey fetus
    • a parasite that is nothing but need
    • Capitalism stimulates this need
    • This and addiction are a critique of a certain type of society
  • Salvador Hassan O’leary (character): describes himself as a cancer that must proliferate
    • he’s the friendly face of capitalism
    • he sells cut antibiotics, adulterated shock repellent, and more things that are really useless
  • 32 passage
    • Categorization of different groups that is very typical of the 50s
    • Lack of control and stripped agency
    • People indulging their most depraved desires
      • scene of decay and moral depravity
    • Presentation: “The Shootist”: Burroughs and Vollmer, by Kathryn Riley and Erika Badalyan
      • Born in Missouri to a wealthy family
      • Expressed an interest in writing from a very young age
      • Injured his hand in Mexico and was treated with Morphine
        • one of his first exposures
      • Graduated from Harvard with honors
      • Traveled a lot and learned a lot about queer culture
      • Was psychoanalyzed a lot, but didn’t really believe in psychoanalysis
        • this did help him remember that when he was four his maid forced him to have oral sex with her boyfriend
      • Went to war but got psychiatric discharge
      • Went to Chicago
        • worked as a PI and an exterminator
      • Vollmer was born in 1923 and went to Barnard College
      • She was roommates with Edie Parker, Kerouac’s first wife
      • Ginsberg and Kerouac introduced Vollmer and Burroughs
        • They called each other telepathic soulmates
      • Both had substance abuse problems
        • Burroughs did Heroin and Vollmer did Benzedrine
        • Vollmer’s first husband left her because of her drug problem
      • Eventually moved to New Orleans where Burroughs was arrested for heroin possession
      • They then went to Mexico together
      • At a party, they say that they’re going to do their William Tell act, something they had never done before
        • She places a cup on her head and he means to shoot it off, but accidentally kills her
        • He made a cover story that it was an accident, but his lawyer then killed someone and fled
        • Burroughs was detained in Mexico for 13 days before being bailed out and fleeing himself
      • Ginsberg though that Vollmer wanted to die and that Burroughs was assisting her
      • Burroughs then went to Paris and Tangier
      • He performed experiments on himself where he’d do drugs and mirror gaze
        • these got him interested in cut ups
        • cut ups became a way for him to make sense of things
      • As a shootist, he shot boards and made paintings out of them
      • He was very passionate about his identity as a shootist
    • Burroughs’s work had a fair amount of gynophobia in it
      • always used in a way meant to shock people
      • Females are always portrayed as ravenous
        • trope of pornography
      • The hanging thing is also a trope of pornography and there are many others throughout the book






February 18 – Postmodern Paranoia: Pynchon’s America


  • Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])


Suggested Reading:





February 20 – Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper, 2006 [1966])



Class Notes:


  • Today we had a discussion wherein people wrote questions about anything in the class and we discussed them at random.
  • Least favorite novel and why
    • Naked Lunch seemed overwhelmingly the least favorite
      • not meant to be enjoyable
      • historical context of the time is important to fully appreciate it
      • redundant
      • is it less potent to us because we are desensitized?
        • would it have been more profound in the 60s?
      • What makes these works Postmodern?
        • pastiche
        • mocking metanarrative
        • they turn modernism on its head
      • Why is the end of Pynchon so ambiguous?
        • whole point of the novel is that everything is in flux
        • paranoia
        • Oedipa sets herself as other from everyone else in the story
        • If there was a buyer, it would give Oedipa a victory no matter what–the victory of satisfaction
      • What is modernism?
        • after WWI and during rapid industrialization
        • focus on consciousness
        • not as satirical and critiquing as PoMo
          • expands more on tradition
        • function precedes form
      • What makes Barthelme different from the other authors?
        • more modulated
        • many different styles of writing from story to story
        • Is Borges more different from the other authors than Barthelme?
          • man of his themes occur in the other works
          • he takes himself more seriously and his work as a sacred aspect to it
          • he’s more esoteric
        • Barthelme is very interpersonal in some ways, which makes him stand out
      • Are we still in PoMo?
        • maybe
        • PoMo isn’t well-defined so it’s difficult to say
        • Can we still define literature in terms of eras?
        • David Foster Wallace–Concept of New sincerity wherein after PoMo we have to come back to regular narrative
        • Is irony dead? Have we had irony poisoning?
      • What is the significance of Pynchon’s long sentences?
        • most literary element to the work
        • gets you caught up in each moment
        • aesthetically pleasing?
        • Contributes to fragmentation
        • Intentionally overwhelming
      • How do drugs function in PoMo?
        • They’re a tool
        • Literally contaminating reality with dreams
        • Drug use also exploded in the 60s
      • How does PoMo relate to American culture?
        • nowadays it connects to the internet and internet humor/irony
        • Apathy in American culture
        • after WWII Americans were just in shock and incapable of comprehending such mass destruction
        • self-deprecation
      • How do names in The Crying of Lot 49 function?
        • humor
        • Oedipa’s name comes from Oedipus
          • may be pointing at the false sense of security
          • paranoia
          • destiny
        • Maybe the names have no meaning




February 25 – Ouroboros: Calvino’s Self-Consuming Story


  • Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979])



Class Notes:


The Crying of Lot 49

  • Element of pastiche and detective novels
  • If we look at it as a mystery, the mystery gets bigger the more the book goes on
  • It heads toward a condition of non-knowledge
    • starts of sort of stable but ends in much more uncertainty
    • progressive lack of understanding that comes with understanding
  • conspiracy: many different elements working together to achieve something hidden
    • different from conspiracy theory
  • Menippean Satire: something that is not only throwing satirical reflections on society, but is a wisdom narrative
    • wisdom narrative–she’s a different woman at the end of the novel; similar to a fable
  • What is the pushing force of the narrative?
    • it’s a quest narrative of her trying to figure out the conspiracy
    • confronting other forces
  • Oedipa is alerted of some strange reality
    • Why was she presented with this quest?
  • Pierce Inverarity is an obscure, all-powerful figure
  • The book’s advancement is thematic
    • headed toward a larger reality underneath the surface
    • Oedipa learns about all these underground groups beneath her suburban life
  • Thematic journey through secret worlds connected in different ways
  • Reminiscent of Borges
    • secret groups, reality, Tlon Uqbar, generational secrets
  • Oedipus gets caught up in a prediction
    • he tries to avoid it and thus does exactly what it predicts
  • Inverarity–comes from the latin word for truth, but means “untruth”
  • Rapunzel paragraph on pg 10 has a switch of registers
    • goes back to vernacular
  • Oedipa is trapped
    • things feel insubstantial and arbitrary
  • The image of Oedipa trapped is a counterimage to the rest of the world
  • He dissatisfying, mundane life is the set up of the quest
  • Pierce may have been trying to reveal a more interesting world to Oedipa
  • Pierce creates San Narciso
    • He’s the mega-developer full of power and he connects everything
  • Rapunzel is unique in that the princess actually has agency and acts heroically
  • When Oedipa arrives in San Narciso, she experiences several revelations
    • hierophant: the revelation of a god
    • She senses that there’s something more, but she doesn’t know what
  • Presentation: PoMo and Film: The French New Wave (By Alyssa and Mika)
    • French new wave was mostly in the 50s and 60s
      • Post WWII revival of French Cinema
      • Loosely organized, unpolished, disjointed
      • New directors, actors, styles, etc.
    • Jean Luc Godard
      • important figure in French New Wave Cinema
      • was upset that there was nothing new and unique, so he started making his own unique films
    • New things like breaking the fourth wall and jump cuts
      • reminds you that you are watching a film
    • A Bout de Souffle (Godard)
      • protagonist is a bad person
        • role reversal in the end where the woman betrays him
        • many pop culture references



February 27 — Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler (Harcourt, 1982 [1979])


Class Notes:


  • Why is this book good PoMo?
    • 60s were a key decade for PoMo
      • disjunctive decade
      • rupture between past and future
      • flowering of social liberation after conforming 50s
      • US dominated the world after WWII
    • This book sort of mirrors the shattering of the 50s
  • 1963–Kennedy’s assassination
    • everyone’s watching when he is shot and when his killer is shot
    • Shatters the mirage of invulnerability
    • idea that we know what’s going on
      • dark looming other reality
    • loss of trust and confidence in the predictability of the world
  • Lyotard quote: “I define Postmodernism as incredulity toward meta-narrative”
    • what is a meta-narrative
      • the person who the history is about is telling the history
      • ideological systems we use to make sense of the world–Christianity, Marxism, Freudianism, etc.
      • It’s a larger system for making sense of events
    • delegitimization–word used by Jurgen Habermas
  • How can we judge and place values without metanarrative?
  • This book is about delegitimization and incredulity toward metanarrative
  • No one ever tells Oedipa how to feel
    • She’s trying to find a connection, but is afraid of what she’ll find
  • Apologue: opposed to a realist narrative, this is more of a verbal fiction concerned with idea, fable, and the shape of language
  • Characters are plot devices
    • flat characters that hold up the plot
  • Story expands, it doesn’t narrow down
  • She’s seeing reality for the first time
  • “Promise of hierophany”–promise of the appearance of the sacred
  • Revelation that something about the US is rotten
    • revelation of landscapes
  • Symbol is a mute post horn
  • Theme of communication–revelation of isolation
  • She realizes the power of choice and options
    • she acquires agency
  • She loses everyone in the book
    • strips away everything
  • Absurdity of the mail being the conspiracy is part of the humor
  • Oedipa knows she wasn’t happy (rapunzel imagery)
  • Dichotomy of “secret richness”
    • manifest world is revealed to her as this tawdry place
  • He new knowledge leader her to ambiguity and even less certainty
  • Underclass theme–agency of social revolution
  • Is it Tristero or is it just America?
  • Sailor is the only character with a strong emotional connection to someone
    • Oedipa sees him and she sees him burn–hierophany
      • he’s almost being sacrificed
    • Why is this image an important one?
      • It’s where Oedipa sees the darkest side of America
      • Tristero is a system relied on by people on the outskirts





March 3 – Pastiche, Fairy Tales, Women’s Voices: Carter’s Fables


  • Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])



Class Notes:


  • Mandarin PoMo
    • high-toned viscosity
  • He admired Borges and Nabokov
    • intricate labyrinthine structures
  • Calvino called this book a “hyper novel” done to the “tenth degree”
    • “it’s a catalogue of anthology novel”
    • “individual confronted by a menace”
    • in danger from attraction to a female
  • Lived in Paris while writing
    • political turmoil in Italy
  • reader is reading the description of reading
    • reading is the one thing consistent in the plot
  • He stopped writing fiction for three years when he came up with this book idea
  • He moved to France in 1967 with his wife
  • Loved literature of the fantastic
  • He emphasizes his power as a writer
    • But the book itself contributes to a very PoMo idea of the death of the author
    • author becomes a character like others
  • Idea of the artist existing present with the text
    • destroyed this idea in the text
    • multiple authors and the privileged author
      • we’re no longer in the hands of the all powerful author
    • multiplicity of authors and stories
  • 10 stories and the framing narrative
    • frame is the story of the reader
  • Very pastiche–made up of chunks of different stories
    • almost a found object
  • Calvino, in a 1984 letter, stated that he was parodying Borges and several other authors, like Tanizaki, Rulfo, Chesterton, Bulgakov, etc.
  • Various readers in the story: us, Ludmilla (the female reader), the reader, Lotaria, Cavedagna
  • Calvino worked for Einaudi publishing in Italy
  • There’s a character who is the book as an object: Irnerio
    • He’s taught himself not to read
  • What is art?
    • it’s not necessary
    • It consumes time
    • it fascinates us
  • Tour de force
    • demonstration
    • “I can do this”
    • setting yourself a technical challenge
    • Chinese boxes, Matryoshka Dolls
  • Mise en abyme: to but in the abyss
    • infinite reflection
    • creating a minor world different from our world
  • Is this book just a tour de force, or is it more?
    • renders obsolete the willing suspension of disbelief and tells the truth about reading and how it affects us
    • it’s a book addressed to readers
    • Showing the two extremes of the critical art world
    • Ludmilla is the perfect reader
      • she doesn’t try to do anything with it
      • The main character is contrasted to her
      • Her reading is so attractive because she just takes the book for what it is
      • she’s an optimistic reader
    • The power of the narrative art is usually suspense
      • suspense: contradiction between wanting to know something and being caught in the present
    • After the first few chapters, suspense is somewhat erased
      • the burden of suspense is thrust on the frame story
    • Strange, floating characters is a very Nabokovian idea
    • The stories are meant to be incipits of stories
    • The stories are all interconnected
    • Being told that they’re incomplete tries to impede our enjoyment
    • The natural reading of Ludmilla isn’t about meaning divorced from the text
      • Just the pleasure of reading
    • realism is built on recognition of emotions and states of being
    • All of these stories refer to things we experience
      • recognition remains
    • This novel is fascinated with erasure
    • recurring ideas in the stories
      • Ludmilla
      • forbidden love
      • Detective
      • being watched
      • plotting
      • paranoia
      • losing control to outside forces
        • others being in control
      • female characters with narrative power
    • This is the age structuralism
    • Calvino’s friends are Levi Strauss, Roland Barthes, Raymond Queneau, etc.
      • structuralism–analysis of elements of a story as related to the structure
    • Calvino’s also related to Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle
      • “Oulipo”
      • Queneau, Harry Matthews, George Perec,
      • Avant garde literary movement that Calvino associated with
        • creating games and structures that repeat
      • AJ Greimas–semiotic square
        • using squares to produce narrative
      • Always using formulae games



March 5 – Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber (Penguin, 2015 [1979])


Suggested reading:



Class Notes:


  • Calvino’s parents were botanists
    • he was expected to pursue science
  • He joined Oulipo in the 60s
    • interested in stories under constraint
  • aleatory: using luck and randomness in art
  • Calvino was also associated with structuralism
    • story structures
    • false authority of the author
    • stories themselves use rules similar to the rules used in language and we can analyze them according to these rules
  • This novel was organized in semiotic squares
    • semiotics: theory of signs
    • went along with structuralism
  • The squares seem like a joke comprised after the fact, but Calvino insisted that this is how he wrote the story
    • atmosphere of producing art according to these rules
  • Calvino’s conjuring the author and assaulting it
  • France 1968: huge student protests that overthrew the government
    • one of the high points of Postmodernism
  • As a genre this would have been a comedy because there’s a marriage at the end
  • main reader has no expectations or idealism
    • Ludmilla is much more idealistic and functions as a manic pixie dream girl
    • They have complementary roles
  • For it’s time, the main reader was a standard male character
    • Ludmilla is characterized in part as a figment of him
  • Frame story is a highly self-conscious story about stories
    • but also a tour de force
  • Some of the humor comes from the cliche of the frame story
    • frame story’s cliche brings us in as the common reader
  • The stories themselves border on cliche
  • At what point in our reading do we come to sterility?
  • How seriously should we be taking these stories?
    • There’s a significant component of play
  • Intentional Fallacy: making the writer’s intention the main part of the interpretation
  • passage from “Leaning from the Steep Slope”
    • you can examine everything and still miss meaning
      • irony
    • What gives us pleasure in reading and why?

(not a) Presentation: Postmodern and Modern Art by Herman and Jordan

  • modernism: generally characterized by a deliberate break with classical and traditional forms
  • Postmodernism: conscious departure of modernism characterized by rejection of ideology and theory
  • Dada: political modernist art movement responding to WWI
    • rejected logic and rationality and embraced nonsense
  • Dada artist and work
    • Duchamp–originally a cubist
      • preferred conceptual art to retinal art
      • readymades: regular objects labeled as art
      • The Fountain (a urinal) for example
      • pop art and Warhol are PoMo descendants of this
      • Duchamp admired Warhol
    • Hanna Hoch: German artist, political, focused on collage
      • nazi censorship stopped her
      • photomontage: collage of photos of everyday objects
      • feminist dadaism
      • PoMo pieces like Retroactive I and Beyond the Pleasure Principle Piece were similar to her work
        • assemblage: like photomontage except done with physical objects
        • literary equivalent was cut ups
      • Surrealism: emphasis on the unconscious and dreams in unlocking the imagination
        • motifs of nature imagery
        • rejection of realism and rationalism
        • influenced the 50s beats
      • Surrealist Artists and works
        • Magritte
          • painting called “The Lovers” where their faces are covered by white cloth
            • consciousness separate from what we see
          • many figures in his art as well as nature
          • idea of the human head
        • Oppenheim
          • some concepts of the feminine domestic
          • objectification of women
        • PoMo post-surrealist
          • lowbrow (pop surrealism): opposition to the idea of high art
            • Hot Rod Race
            • cartoonish characters
            • merging of pop culture and surrealism
          • Difference between Mo art and PoMo art is difficult to define, but it lies in how we view the art
          • Idea that modernism was killed by capitalism and all that’s left is capitalism
            • PoMo is anti-capitalist and anti consumerism





March 10 – Marilynne Robinson’s Pilgrim Quest


  • Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])

Suggested Reading:


Class Notes:


  • First online class
  • Carter was a British journalist and fiction writer
  • fascinated with the objectification of women in society
  • Worked in the 70s mainly
  • Took Marquis de Sade’s works seriously
    • wrote about why they ported for women
  • She used her literary award money to get divorced
  • Moved to Japan
    • wrote this book shortly after returning from Japan
  • The language is more lush, romantic, realist, etc.
    • Why is it in this class then?
      • it’s an excellent example of pastiche
        • fable, fantasy, gothic
        • gothic is dark, like Frankenstein, for example. It fits into the world of romanticism
        • Empires, ghostly castles, threatened maidens, sexual elements, murder, etc.
        • She was influenced by Edgar Alan Poe who also used pastiche somewhat
      • Fairy tales were only put into written format in the 19th and 18th centuries
        • Beauty and the Beast was published slightly before the French Revolution
        • Story goes back to Cupid and Psyche
      • Also a fair amount of surrealism
        • The tiger’s Bride
          • the valet, the mechanical servant, the horses in the dining room
        • Her intention was not to do “versions” or “adult fairy tales”
          • she wanted to find the “latent content” of the stories
          • Freudian idea of latent v manifest where manifest is the literal dream and latent is the dream’s meaning
        • Stories with a fairy tale depth that bring it into a contemporary setting
          • latent sex brought into the manifest world
          • sexual underside of fairy tales are much more common now
            • These were early versions of the analysis of this
          • Fairy tales show men’s power and women’s virginity–> power of men over women
            • Best shown in “The Bloody Chamber”
              • surrealist element in blood that can’t be washed off as well
            • Universal present of sex and sexual elements to these stories
            • Commodification of women
              • In “The Tiger’s Bride” she’s gambled away
            • two functions of her work
              • analysis to bring out latent content
              • corrective view to make the woman’s role different
            • Tiger’s Bride
              • she belongs to her father and then to the Tiger man
              • she transforms as well
                • she refuses to be a prostitute
              • why does she refuse his proposal
                • she has nothing to gain from going back to her father
                • what she’s after is liberation
                • she isn’t willing to be treated like a thing
              • she wants to be deposited at a church for several reasons
                • that’s where you leave an orphan child
                • she is also a ravaged woman
              • Responds to his proposal to remind him of what their transaction really is
              • Trompe l’oeil: paintings that give the illusion of depth
                • tricking the eye
                • The horse is munching on painted leaves
              • She says that as a woman she is like the beasts in the eyes of men–without a soul
                • male-centric universe where women have no souls
              • The fall of humanity is a gynophobic story
              • Why does she change in the end?
                • she finally comes into herself by becoming a tiger
              • How does she go from being fake to real?
                • she gets agency and decides to start
                • the tiger for is also very beautiful
              • The Bloody Chamber
                • Bluebeard story is focused on a woman’s curiosity as tawdry
                • Why does she retain the mark?
                  • she is irreparably changed
                    • otherness and the stain of losing her virginity
                  • Many fairy tales are about metamorphosis
                    • Key metamorphosis for women historically was the loss of virginity



March 12 – Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])


Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:



Class Notes:


  • Pastiche and recasting of fairy tales to bring out the latent content
    • recast the roles of women in the fairy tales
    • pioneered the concept of looking at traditional texts and retelling them
  • What’s her method?
    • not quite parody, but comes close to it in a serious manner
  • “The Bloody Chamber”
    • example of a feminist retelling
    • some versions of Bluebeard have the brothers save her
    • much more nuanced to be in first person
      • we see more of the character’s interior
      • we see that she has doubt and isn’t passively accepting everything
      • she doesn’t love him
    • Exposition on the mother is done without feeling like exposition
    • She marries him for certain things, but not for love
      • she seeks independence
      • he’s wealthy
      • she senses in herself a “corruption that took [her’ breath away”
      • she’s intrigued by the idea of sexuality
        • by looking in the mirror she sees herself through his eyes
      • She’s finally seeing herself as desirable
        • she compares herself to the past wives, all of whom were famed beauties
      • The power of sex suffuses this book
        • women can have sex and enjoy it
      • Potentiality for corruption is a potentiality for her own power
      • he’s attracted by her virginity/purity
      • Shows women understanding the power of their sexuality
      • Phone after sex scene feels very anachronistic
      • Mother saves her with late-husband’s gun
        • symbol of what’s left of her husband
      • The subtext of the fairy tale is that you can learn to love a much older man
        • sent a message to young, aristocratic girls who were being given to older men by their families
      • The Company of Wolves
        • The girl gets naked and seduces the wolf
        • “The blizzard died down”–> jump cut
          • they had sex
        • Through her sexuality, she saves herself
          • sex seems to subdue him
          • it’s not just a transaction, it’s of her own volition, she chooses to sleep with him
          • she saves herself and transforms him into something more presentable and domesticated
        • Virginity makes characters fearless; don’t know how to be afraid
      • The Lady of the House of Love
        • fearless virgin man
        • he sucks her blood and turns her human, which kills her
      • The Erl-King
        • original is of a father taking home is son through the forest, but the son sees the Erl King who is trying to get him
          • the son dies in the end
        • In this version, the girl strangles him to death
        • Fair amount of evocative language that doesn’t really make sense
        • All of these stories have a lot of eyes
      • Puss in Boots
        • How does this fit in with the other stories?
        • Less interiority; more absurd characters
        • No pull toward modernity
        • extra bawdy version of the original
        • Premise doesn’t allow for seriousness
        • primarily focused on the male perspective
        • contrast of weeping romanticism and practicality
          • the cad does everything and the man does nothing
        • puss is the one running the operation
      • Carter raises many questions about eroticism and romanticism
      • Many myths punish women for their curiosity
      • All these stories have some sort of bloody chamber
      • decoration is gothic but mentality is contemporary





March 17 – Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])


Class Notes:


The Bloody Chamber Cont.

  • The Lady of the House of Love
    • female vampires were not very common in 1979
      • especially facing the male virgin
      • they’re both virgins
    • Does she have more agency and power?
      • she has uncontrollable desires and urges
      • there’s a kind of ambivalence
      • she has to obey her ancestors and caretaker and she’s dependent on the tarot cards
    • Latent content of the fairytale
      • she can’t love, but she wants to
    • The house is decayed and degraded
      • weather has gotten into the house
    • What allows him to survive?
      • we are told that it’s his innocence
      • he’s a hero of the story and he’s also a hero in going to France
    • She cries because she doesn’t know how to do anything but kill
      • with the cards, she sees that she can have something other than killing, but she doesn’t know how to get it
    • He doesn’t really know what he is the hero
    • He kills the last vampire
      • WWI kills off the old world–modernity turned into blood and violence facilitated by modern technology
      • her death is connected to the end of Europe
    • She’s ambivalent, but she finally sort of makes a decision in the end
    • Pay attention to the writing in these stories
    • It’s a very gothic story
  • The Company of Wolves
    • She uses her virginity to triumph
    • The most famous of the stories
    • She takes off and burns her cloak, laughs at the wolf, and then sleeps with him
      • Why does she laugh at him?
        • she realizes her power and ceases to be afraid
        • She realizes herself as a subject and not an object
        • extremely old metaphor of the taming of the savage beast by a woman
        • Realization of female power
      • Why does she throw the cloak into the fire?
        • she’s laughing at the idea of being kept from her power
      • Housekeeping
        • seems less PoMo than many other books
        • Somewhat resistant text
        • many dualities
        • “The surface on which we stand is not fixed but rather sliding”–Emerson
          • transcendental pastiche
        • Is it PoMo or not?
          • some think it’s extremely PoMo and others think it’s at heart Modernist
        • an enormous part of this book is its imagery
        • won many awards
        • a lot of religious imagery
          • biblical echoing like Cormac McCarthy



March 19 – Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (Picador, 2004 [1980])


Class Notes:


  • Debate over whether its PoMo or not
  • 25 year gap between after this book was published where Robinson didn’t publish any more novels
  • metaphors derived from nineteenth century transcendentalists
    • studied and worked with extended transcendental metaphors
    • collected metaphors on scraps of paper
  • A very meditative book
  • “everything that falls upon the eye is an apparition”
  • Beginning of the novel lies in the transcendental metaphors that she worked with
  • Argument for Not PoMo (courtesy of Jake Lillian)
    • more pastoral gothic like Faulkner
    • No contamination of reality with dreams
    • 116 at the beginning of the page seems to separate dreams from reality
    • lack of meta nature
    • Much more conventional in terms of what a novel is
    • Absence of PoMo attitude–PoMo doesn’t conflate humanity as important in the way that this book does
  • Argument for PoMo (courtesy of Alyssa Martin)
    • Point where there are different POVs (first omniscient, limited, second, etc.)
    • Flips through time
    • A lot of referencing/pastiche– particularly the bible
    • 130-131, contamination of dreams and reality is so well done that you don’t even realize it
    • The whole book uses dream logic as opposed to regular logic
    • Last page of the book is a hole in the narrative
      • book isn’t plot/character driven
        • driven by the way in which things repeat
        • real life is transcendent and magical
      • makes PoMo even more real
    • 153 paragraph on Lot
      • what is going on at this point?
        • it’s a book about mothers who have left and departed
        • Ruthie is speaking at least 7 years in the future
          • 7 is a biblical number and is important in the book
        • lot’s wife left but didn’t mean to do so
        • Talking about a piece of art–Ruthie’s making art with the snow out of her imagination
        • she imagines this creation
          • pastiche of the bible
          • intertextuality with the bible in the stories and the rhythm of the prose
            • king james bible
          • Makes lot into a universal mother figure to forgive
          • Feral children are kids who lose their mothers and return to nature
            • mother figure is forgiven
          • imagination in the world of feral children
        • Also a novel about loneliness and transience
        • Almost deems predetermined that Ruthie will join Sylvie in transience
        • Fixity v transience
        • The grandpa and the mother who died are still in the lake
          • they go ice skating above their bodies
        • notion of being drawn to the lake
          • grandpa’s death is the first rupture and the second is the mother’s suicide
            • no explanation is given as to why she commits suicide
          • Does our modern lens prevent us from grasping Robinson’s point?
            • Are these moments tragic?
              • not really; they are written as simple states of being
            • Ruthie doesn’t sugarcoat her memory of her mother whereas Lucille does
            • Sylvie is thought of as crazy in the town
              • her housekeeping is different from the settled community
              • she gets a deeper sense of being from it
                • she has a density of experience from her transience that settled people do not get
              • The end of the book is a liberation
              • Idea that if you exist in someone’s memory, you exist
              • Idea that the past determines the present




March 24, 26 – Spring Break (No Class: Read Catch-22)



March 30 – Slapstick of Total War: Heller’s World


  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])


Class Notes:



  • 77
    • Sylvie’s sick not for Ruthie and Lucille is very funny
    • She doesn’t care about Lucille and Ruthie missing school
    • The girls decide not to turn in the letter
    • The letter shows that Sylvie doesn’t have a lot of respect for the institution of school
      • does the note ridicule notes or Sylvie’s parenting
    • She takes Ruthie away from the fallen middle class
      • they’ve always been afraid that Sylvie will leave or that she will be taken away from them
      • Lucille breaks and chooses the middle class life
      • Ruthie becomes a transient, but it’s not viewed as a tragedy; it’s more of a liberation
    • Ruthie doesn’t regard her departure with Sylvie as something tragic
    • 168
      • one of the important metaphors of the novel
      • Why do they burn the house in the end?
      • The lake, house, and bridge are primal elements in the construction of the story
        • the bridge kills the grandfather, the mother, and supposedly Ruthie and Sylvie
          • it’s really the beginning of Ruthie’s life
        • Idea that our imaginations alter what’s real
        • Lucille is in the house seeing the ghosts of the departed who are not really departed
          • then it’s an image of her in Boston seeing no ghosts but putting oyster crackers in her bag and breathing her initials onto the window
        • The constant negatives are trying to describe what’s not there
        • Sylvie and Ruthie have no idea where Lucille is and she doesn’t know where they are
        • People are composed of different abstractions
        • The book’s descriptions deal with the mystery of perception
          • Sylvie likes solitude, the dark, and gazing at things
        • Constant image of inside v outside with glass and light


  • Originally Catch-18, but it had to be changed
  • enormously popular
  • Heller became a huge literary star
  • Published in 1961 and written in the 50s
  • highly influential of later novels
  • Brings absurdity of WWII to the mix of the 60s
  • absurdity, existentialism, sane man in a sea of craziness
  • Heller was a bombardier in the war
    • Flew 60 missions
    • stated that he never had a bad officer
      • reminds us that the book is in many ways more about the 50s than the war
        • manic energy, bureaucratic absurdity, contradictions, paradox
      • This book looks forward
      • Many aspects of the 50s are present
        • loyalty oaths and CID men (like McCarthyism)
        • Henry Fonda
        • Globalization
        • references
        • obsession with publicity
        • self-service and officers–permanent military industrial complex
        • suburban existence
      • What is Catch-22? What does it represent?
      • identity and bureaucracy
      • uncertainty in identity
      • bureaucratic dominance
      • absurdity and satire become magical realism
      • Yossarian prefigures a number of other sane characters in a crazy world
        • also a Christ figure



April 2 – Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (Simon & Schuster, 2011 [1961])


Class Notes:


  • Paradox is the driving force of the book
    • catch-22 is the central paradox
    • catch 22 takes us to the conclusion that war is crazy
      • people trying to kill people they don’t know is crazy until everybody is doing it
    • This book was attached for being unpatriotic
    • 50s sentiment of societal conformity is challenged
      • this “prosperity” covering a lot of really horrible things
    • Written at the height of the Cold War
    • absurdism, existentialism, attitudes toward god
    • absurdity is key
      • it’s a text about absurdity and the way paradox spreads everywhere
    • It’s very inventive technically
      • moves a lot through time
      • character’s names are often used as transitions
    • Snowden’s death is referred to again and again
      • it’s the closes the book comes to a climactic moment
    • The book is organized around characters who are almost epithets
    • What is the central conflict of the book?
      • Yossarian’s recognition of the possibility that he could be killed clashing with Cathcart’s ambition
    • Snowden’s secret is a revelatory moment close to epiphany
      • This is what leads to Yossarian’s challenge of bureaucracy
      • Yossarian fights to save his life and for justice
      • it’s the reveal
    • When he’s walking through Rome, the tone is very different and it’s one of the only long descriptions
    • The book came out before the forefront of Vietnam, but it became immensely popular against the backdrop of Vietnam
    • Some characters seem unaware they can really die
    • Yossarian is a very influential character
      • important trope of sane one among crazies in literature of the 50s and 60s
      • Christ figure
    • When he walks backward and people pop out of the bushes, there is a sense that he is carrying all their weight
    • He can’t take the deal to go home because he would become part of the problem
    • Orr is the one who totally fools Yossarian
      • he triumphs in the end
    • One of the derivations of magical realism is satire
    • Orr is a revelatory figure that allows the end to happen
      • he leads Yossarian to decide to run
    • Nately’s whore attacks Yossarian because she has no one else to blame
    • Yossarian and Nately’s whore are similar in that they’re both determined and will not be dissuaded
      • She never even liked Nately until the end
    • Many descriptions are cartoonish
    • Black humor, caricature, realistic descriptions

Postmodernism in the Present by Kayla and Ankita




April 7 – Persistence of Airborne Toxic Events: DeLillo’s Prophesy


  • Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])


Class Notes:


  • parody of the nuclear family
    • the kids aren’t fully related
    • the kids are also more socialized than their parents
  • Consumerist culture
  • The book is somewhat prophetic in what future dynamics will be like
  • There are parallels between Gladney and Yossarian, but they’re in different worlds
    • consumer culture has taken over everyday life
  • Murray likens the grocery store to a temple
    • palaces of consumption
  • They’re surrounded by consumerism with television and stores
  • Steffie talks about the Toyota Celica in her sleep
    • everything has become permeated by TV
      • see Baudrillard and Barthes
      • consumer culture and the language of signs
    • DeLillo had a job where he wrote advertising promotions
    • A lot of humor about death focused on the Postmodern family as a sort of tribe
      • the children are connected to all parts of the world through their mothers
      • their mothers, and Jack, are all connected to intelligence services
    • Estrangement of daily life that we take for granted
    • There’s a search for meaning in a post-god world through consumerism and TV
      • meant to protect us from the coming of death in the way that religion does
    • Consumerist secular world where consumerism doesn’t protect you from death in the way that religion does
    • This book is also a pastiche
      • satire, detective, family, surrealism, dystopian, etc.
      • neo-pastiche noir at the end where Jack plans to shoot Mink
    • Murray is like a Mephistopheles character who leads jack to talk about death
      • there’s an almost bildungsroman spiritual search
    • Wilder is the only character not afraid of death or confronted by consumerism
      • he doesn’t speak in pre-formed phrases from the TV
      • when he cries, it’s not about death
    • Secularism, fear of nuclear war, fear of an airborne toxic event
    • This book came out 2 months before the Union Carbide disaster where toxic gas in India emitted during the night killed 2,500 people
    • Murray says that Tibetan’s see death as the end of attachment
      • explains his view of consumerism and how grocery stores function like the place of recharging
    • Supermarkets are also where they get tabloids
    • Incomprehensibility of contemporary life
    • The airborne toxic event has to do with how contemporary science and technology rule our lives even though we don’t understand them
    • Heinrich has an underlying skepticism of science and technology
      • they’re supposed to be rational but become a threat we can’t comprehend
    • General contempt toward religion
    • Television and technology are motors of consumerism
    • Heinrich makes the point that we think we’re so advanced, but technology is as elusive to us as god
    • Technology is an unclear realm, and yet everything is centered around it
      • it’s as ubiquitous as the great beyond
    • This novel depicts a blended, post-nuclear family
    • defamiliarizes the familiar
      • the family going to a drive in and eating chicken
      • ostrene: Russian word for estrangement
      • DeLillo takes the world we take for granted and shows how weird it is



April 9 – Don DeLillo, White Noise (Penguin, 2016 [1985])


Suggested Reading:




Class Notes:


  • No final and deadline for paper has been moved to April 21st
  • Postmodernism traits
    • pastiche, irony, self-reflexivity, parody, cartoonishness, technique experimentation, satire, surfaces, depthless characters, simulacra, images produced by society, popular culture, consumerism, politics
  • Hitler was an enormous public phenomenon
  • Gladney is obsessed with German and is hung up on technology
  • Many aspects of Modernism predicted Postmodernism
    • periodism can’t really be done with perfect accuracy
  • Deja vu here is a symptom of the phenomenon
    • Gladney does everything to deny that Steffie may actually be having signs of disease
  • Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies and created the department
    • part of the pastiche is the academic novel
  • Why does Hitler play such a large role in the book?
    • in popular culture, there is a sort of cast of characters
    • Hitler is a constant in popular culture
    • Gladney also has a fascination with authority, and Hitler epitomizes this
    • Gladney depends on Hitler
      • continuation of the satire of academia
        • Same thing when Murray tries to make an Elvis department
      • Idea of the consumption of disaster
    • There’s an omnipresence of fascism
    • Hitler was a historian’s dream in that he enacted the stuff of nightmares
    • Murray and Gladney talking about Hitler and Elvis’s mother
      • Gladney is trying to help Murray get the Elvis department and it turns into an academic duel
        • a very absurd scene
        • they’re both pop-culture figures with charisma
      • In talking about Hitler, Gladney creates his own crowd

Presentation: Metafiction and Postmodernism by Chenxin and Di

  • metafiction
    • first used by William H. Gass to mean fiction about fiction
      • novels and stories that draw attention to their compositional features
    • Fiction about fiction and stories about stories are not quite the same
  • Metafiction is an important aspect of PoMo, but it can be traced back to older literature
  • Characteristics of Metafiction
    • narrator addresses reader directly
    • narrator comments on the story he/she is writing (self reflexivity)
    • narrator explains the process of creating the story/characters
    • narrator reveals the artificiality or fictionality of a text
    • The narrator presents the paradox between fiction and reality
  • Metafiction in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
    • reveals the essence of the novel
    • addresses the readers directly
    • reveals the artificiality of the novel
  • Sterne and Diderot were some of the first to use metafiction and they influenced Calvino
  • Appeal of play-freedom from rituals and forms
  • Novel as an essayistic endeavor that views 19th century realism as a dead end path for literature
    • PoMo/metafiction hearkens back to much older fiction





April 14 – Unburying History: Toni Morrison


  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])


Class Notes:


White Noise

  • DeLillo is almost entirely oriented in the present
    • the past exists through the wives and Hitler, but even Hitler is a very present figure
    • relentless interrogation of the present
  • Beloved is obsessed with history and how to bear the burden of memory
    • the books are complementary in that they don’t overlap
  • Recurring theme of secret patterns in our lives and lonely men in rooms
  • The dark side of consumerism
  • DeLillo stated that his work does not offer comfort to readers
  • Heinrich is the voice of dark reason
  • DeLillo says that more comforting fiction doesn’t show that society hasn’t changed much from the past
  • DeLillo’s work is driven by the language that records life
  • Great sensitivity to spectacles in this book
  • Consonance is in many of his sentences
  • Fascination with the spectacle of violence
  • Question whether we should take Murray’s words seriously or not
  • Idea of contemporary violence as a sardonic response to the promise of consumer fulfillment
  • In a world without god, people think that consumerism promises happiness, fulfillment, and meaning
    • If one can’t find this meaning, it produces frustration and loneliness, thus the solitary man in a room
  • Consumerism has made us into spectators of violence as people who demand titillation, but it doesn’t satisfy
  • Why do people try to acquire meaning through violence?
  • When Jack shoots the man, there’s a sort of faux climax
    • the nurses afterward are completely faithless
  • DeLillo’s prose is a lot about lists and rhythm


  • elements of magical realism
  • present is 1873 Cincinnati
    • around where Morrison grew up
  • Morrison was influenced by Faulkner and Woolf
  • She was an editor at Random House for many years
  • Beloved is based on/inspired by a true story
    • a mother killed her child

Presentation: Simulacra and the Hyperreal, by Sharece and Randall

  • Simulation and representation
    • representation: refers to or is exchanged for the real
    • simulation: refers to exchange for itself
    • simulation absorbs representation in the “phases of the image”
  • Successive Phases of the Image
    • image functions as a reflection of a basic reality
    • then the image is considered to be masking and preventing basic reality
    • Marks the absence of reality
    • Bears no resemblance to reality
  • Hyperreality: when what is real and fictional blend together so there is no distinction between where one ends and the other begins
    • commodities are transformed in the hyperreal
  • of simulacra
    • Borges’s story where they try to make a map as accurate as possible
  • Scientific progress/positivism is a metanarrative of modernity
    • PoMo throws this perspective after nuclear warfare
  • Critique of how scientific models supersede phenomena
    • skepticism of science
  • In White Noise the most photographed barn becomes a spectacle and thus an instance of simulacra
  • There’s an aspect of simulacra that is communal



April 16 – Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004 [1987])


Suggested Reading:



Class Notes:


  • third person omniscient, some first person, stream of consciousness
    • influence of Joyce, Faulkner, and Woolf who were all huge modernists
  • There’s an elusiveness to the text
  • The Bible is a very looming text throughout the book
    • Lot’s wife
    • resurrection
    • 4 horsemen of the apocalypse
    • The word ‘beloved’ itself
    • The party that Baby Suggs gives with the berries and pies–out of the gospel
    • Symbolic structure of the novel with several large symbols
      • the Ohio river dividing the lands between freedom and slavery is like the River Jordan
        • also about the passage from life to death
        • hangs over us as a master symbol
      • Morrison followed a lot of aspects of the Margaret Garner story that inspired Beloved
      • Other symbols:
        • the tree on Sethe’s back
        • Tobacco tin replacing Paul D’s heart
          • Tobacco tins used to be a classic thing that you used as a container for old stuff once the tobacco was finished
          • He can’t live in any forward looking way without putting away his past
        • Morrison thought this book would be less popular because it’s about something no one wants to remember
          • a novel very much about coping with the past
          • deals with a social reality that the characters feel as a burden and an obstruction, which is reflected nationally
        • Morrison is writing in the 80s where there’s a conservative revolution
          • Reagan started his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the freedom riders were killed trying to register voters
            • The book had a present-day vitality that was very important
              • it was very controversial–it won the Pulitzer in the wake of its loss of the National Book Award which many claimed was racist
            • Parallel of bringing back memories and the difficulty of living with that memory
            • Names are important
              • Baby Suggs, Sethe, Paul D, Stamp Paid
                • The significance of their names give the book a historical and mythical richness
              • Book is dedicated to “60 million and more”; the number of slaves taken from Africa
                • some people thought this was showing up the Holocaust
              • The house (124) emanates meaning
              • First sentence of each section help to structure the book
                • Part 1: “124 was spiteful”
                  • she has four kids but the third is dead so the three isn’t in the house number
                  • three is a number with religions significance as well (ex. holy trinity)
                • Beloved is reborn in the water
                • the fact that Beloved was already crawling at such a young age suggested that she was gift
                • Sweet Home also looms over the story
                • 124 originally belonged to white people (abolitionists) who now rented it to Sethe
                • they’re not trying to repress one bad experience but an entire life of pain
                • Sethe doesn’t regret killing Beloved because she was trying to save her from a fate worse than death
                  • her attitude is part of the reason people avoid her
                • In the original case of Margaret Garner, there was a debate over which she should be tried for murder or destruction of property
                • there were 28 days of freedom between when Sethe arrived at 124 and when the 4 horseman arrived
                • Paul D reminds Sethe that she has 2 feet, not four
                  • reminds her that she’s not an animal
                  • To Sethe, she became a higher moral being by protecting her child
                • This is kind of a neo-slave narrative

Presentation: Postmodern Narrative and Mathematics, by Nathan and Abhishek

  • Why do people study math?
    • it produces definitive truth
  • ABC Conjecture: a famous unsolved problem in number theory relating + and x
    • In 2012 Shinichi Mochizuki published 600 pages of math claiming to have solved it
      • used many new techniques
    • an international team was organized to see if his work was true or not
    • In 2018, Sholze and Stix visited Mochizuki (who refused to leave Japan)
      • they said there was a gap in Mochizuki’s proof (which he of course denied)
    • Mochizuki decided to publish it in the journal for which he was editor-in-chief
    • Most mathematicians don’t believe the proof, but a cult group of Mochizuki’s follower do
  • 2 papers in the Annals of Mathematics prove contradictory things
    • neither has been retracted
    • One is more believed but very few people know which it is
  • Basic meta-narrative about scientific inquiry is deconstructed
    • instead of truth, we no meander among insubstantial claims
  • Scientific knowledge is imagined to progress constantly
    • but is this true if we don’t have all the facts?
  • Math is loved for its aestheticization of the truth
  • Mochizuki’s paper is a simulacrum of a proof
    • the idea and aesthetics of a proof without a definitive truth
  • These become subjective ideas of truth
  • Is this a postmodern era of mathematics?





April 21 – Dystopia or Paranoia? Markson’s Cracked Mirror


  • David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])


Class Notes:



  • influence of Faulkner and Woolf
    • the way the past weights on the present
    • 2 great modernists fascinated by memory and time
  • Can a nation escape what it’s done to itself?
  • It’s left to us to sort out what this ghost actually is
  • When Beloved first arrives, the POV changes to third person omniscient
    • when she walks out of the water it’s a mythological birth
    • very material prose to describe a very immaterial thing
  • It’s a well-known truism that ghosts don’t have lines on their hands
    • also reinforces how new she is
  • With the rebirth of Beloved, it’s almost as if Sethe’s water breaks again
    • there’s a rebirth occurring
  • There’s an attempt to leaver certain things open to different interpretations
    • an attempt to deny the supernatural-ness
    • maintains ambiguity
  • Beloved shows up after the carnival
    • right when Sethe seems to have found a new beginning
    • She shows up and reminds them of the transgressions of the past
  • The novel deals with not only women but also stolen masculinity

Presentation: it’s postmodernism, by Jake

Pynchon, Paranoia, and Pomo’merica

  • Pynchon was born in 1932 in Glen Cove, NY
  • Worked construction with his dad
  • first published in his high school newspaper where he was eventually banned
  • Brief stint in the navy
    • his file burned in a fire
  • He’s a known recluse
    • very few photos or interviews with him
    • gave his first ever interview earlier this year
  • Won the national book award in 1974 for Gravity’s Rainbow
    • sent a comedian to accept the award in his place
    • there was also a mysterious streaker during the awarding
  • Married Melanie Jackson in the early 90s
    • names their son Jackson Pynchon-Jackson
  • Wrote letters to tabloids under the alias Wanda Tinasky
  • Lived in houses owned by his characters
  • His first novel, V, was published in 1963
    • won the Faulkner award
  • He hated The Crying of Lot 49
  • The crux of paranoia is “interpretive distress”
  • Uses the Freudian definition of paranoia that has to do with sexuality
  • Finding order in disorder
    • “reflex of seeking other orders behind the invisible” –Pynchon
    • universalizing paranoia
    • opposition by doubling
  • In Pynchon’s work, there are many complex sentences that wrap around many plotlines before returning to the present
  • Pynchon’s characters thrive on invisible paranoia
  • How did we get to PoMo America?
    • American idealism died in the 60s




April 23 – David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])



Class Notes:



  • Beloved can be read as a ghost story
  • Denver arguably is the survivor of this novel
    • Sethe ends up sick and bed-ridden
  • Denver is isolated and lonely, but she’s able to leave the house and become a functioning person as a result of Beloved’s arrival
  • You can’t escape the past except by moving through it
  • Sethe has her lie sucked out of her by the past
    • Denver is able to transcend it
  • Beloved is irreducible
  • Paul D is the one who impregnates Beloved
    • Paul D initially tells Sethe that he wants her pregnant, but Beloved is the one who gets pregnant (and then disappears)
  • Beloved takes the sins of slavery upon herself
  • Paul D sort of ends up with Sethe, but Sethe’s end is very ambiguous

Presentation: Postmodern Architecture, by Colton and Aidan

  • Modernist architecture started in the 1910s
    • form follows function
    • stylistically reserved, austere
  • Bauhaus
    • 1920s-30s, Bauhaus was a German art school that spearheaded the modernist architecture movement
    • promoted minimalist style
  • PoMo architect Robert Venturi said “less is bore”
  • PoMo architecture reacts against the austerity of modernists
    • playful and attention seeking
    • buildings are works of art
  • Robert Venture was a pioneer of PoMo architecture
    • started working under 2 prominent modernists until 1958 when he started teaching at Yale
    • Guild House (1960) was the first prominent PoMo building
    • coined phrase” decorated shed” while leading students in research on the Las Vegas strip
  • Charles Moore
    • was an architecture professor at UC Berkeley
    • loud color combination
    • non-traditional materials
  • Frank Gehry
    • abstract geometric shapes made up of chrome panels
    • buildings that seem implausible
  • Often times those who praise architecture ignore the efforts of those who physically put the piece together




April 28 – David Markson, Wittgenstien’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006[1988]


Class Notes:


  • one character
  • monologue style
  • written sentence to sentence
  • pace is often compared to Wittgenstein’s first novel
    • Wittgenstien worked with Bertrand Russell and Whitehead
  • Misleading use of language
    • constant corrections about what language says and doesn’t say
  • Dystopian novel
    • end of the world, or so we think
    • Some people interpret the novel as being about loneliness and madness
  • foreground of the present
    • written in real time
  • no sense of linearity
    • jumping around from point to point
  • All the other characters are historical/cultural figures
  • obsession with ancient Greek culture

Presentation: Theme Parks and Post Modernism by Catherine and Melanie

  • PoMo conditions:
    • euphoria and intensities
    • specificity
      • orientation and disorientation
    • pastiche
    • depthlessness of consumer culture
    • hyperreality
  • 1884–first roller coaster is built in the US (Coney Island)
  • 1955–opening of Disneyland
  • Feeling of euphoria on a roller coaster
  • Simulation of risk, danger, and pleasure
  • Parks now compete to have roller coasters that will attract the most people
  • Baudrillard explained that Disneyland is a major example of simulacrum
  • Pastiche of themed sectors in theme parks
    • allows guests to connect and feel like they’re somewhere else
  • PoMo aspects of theme parks that disorient the senses
    • forced perspective
    • smellitizers
    • sounds according to land
  • Many of the attractions are connected to films
  • Culinary tourism with themed food
  • Vegas is also PoMo (a theme park for adults)
    • signs can be read from a distance in a far
    • casinos have no light or sense of time



April 30 – David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress (Dalkey, 2006 [1988])


Class Notes:


  • Confusion and ambiguity in language
  • theoretically a novel about only one person
  • She introduces a bunch of characters who are cultural and historical figures
  • Stories that occur over and over again
  • Bricolage: physical equivalent to pastiche
  • Is there a plot?
  • There is a very present tense that’s in real time of her writing
    • present day things and the present of her mind going back in time
  • Is she crazy or really the only person left?
  • Her thoughts are all that she has left
    • she is all that is the case
    • She’s the only case of consciousness left over
  • This is a book about skepticism
  • Her trauma may come from the deterioration of her family
  • Her child died of an illness and wasn’t taken to the hospital soon enough
    • She has a lover too during her marriage
    • She has a lot of guilt about this and her son’s death
      • she even mixes up all their names

Presentation: The Sokal Affair and Postmodernism: By EJ and Alex

  • Art is a constantly changing and reactive phenomenon
  • PoMo reacts against modernism
    • initially controversial, but then became the dominant ideology
  • Science Wars
    • conservatives disliked PoMo
      • thought it was too obsessed with relativism and ambiguity
    • Scientists were irritated at humanities scholars
    • Social Text
      • leftist academia journal at Duke University
      • summed up leftist academia
    • Alan Sokal–NYU Physics professor
      • said he was troubled by the decline of standards of intellectual rigor
      • experimented: would they publish a nonsensical article if it flattered ideological perceptions?
      • “physical reality is just a social construct”
    • Social Text published Sokal’s piece, but later claimed that they thought it was suspicious when the truth came out
      • even exhibited cautious sympathy with Sokal
    • Connection with White Noise
      • moral relativism to Hitler studies
      • Heinrich is an excellent example of Sokal’s parody
    • Parody of academia is itself PoMo
    • Sokal Affair shows a potential problem with PoMo
      • also a lack of standards in academia
    • Po-PoMo
      • Barthelme predicted the death PoMo
      • PoMo’s subversive force has served its purpose and is no longer responsive to present cultural shifts
      • Irony is the main tyrannical force of PoMo
      • We see Cynicism in The Crying of Lot 49, Housekeeping, White Noise, Catch-22, etc.
        • Cynicism presents an opposing viewpoint of accepted ideals, but through overexposure–causes pessimism
      • Self-reflexivity dismantles classic ideas of narrative without expanding on the idea of the self
        • not a depiction of a person’s identity
      • Will we return to sincerity as a reaction against PoMo?


May 5 – Final Class Wrap Up


Suggested Reading:


May [Date TBD] – Final Examination (Short Answers)


Further Reading

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

William Gaddis, The Recognitions

Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

Thomas Pynchon, V.

Joseph Heller, Something Happened

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Donald Barthelme, Forty Stories

John Barth, Lost in the Funhouse

Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Samuel Beckett, Molloy, Malone’s Death, The Unnamable

John Barth, The Floating Opera


Further Viewing



Donnie Darko

Inside John Malkovich

The Last Seduction

Red Rock West

Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind

Blade Runner

Pulp Fiction

Blue Velvet


Waltz With Bashir

sex, lies and videotape



Act of Killing

Battle of Algiers


Chungking Express

Jackie Brown