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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Donald L Anderson
ENGL 213
Seattle Campus

Modern and Postmodern Literature

Introduces twentieth-century literature and contemporary literature, focusing on representative works that illustrate literary and intellectual developments since 1900.

Class description

Engl 213B - Modern and Postmodern Literature: "Troubling Thought" Intellectual Developments of the 20th Century:

This section of English 213 will explore intellectual developments made during the 20th century in the areas of literature, film, and cultural theory. Students will need no prior experience with theories or representations of modernism or postmodernism. Our main objective will be to cover select texts in order to answer the following questions: What exactly were the interventions made in critical thought during the last century? What was specifically troubled by these interventions? And finally, what are the critical rewards offered by these interventions? Our basic course philosophy will argue that the intellectual developments encountered in the course must be measured by their impact on what we’ll term “culturally approved knowledge.” In other words, what did these 20th century texts change about their respective media (i.e. how does Calvino challenge common conceptions about reading and literature?); and, how did these texts intervene into the socio-cultural landscape (i.e. how does Butler’s use of time travel help us think about race differently)?

To this end we are more concerned with the rewards and use value of the ideas developed during the 20th century rather than evaluating how true these ideas are to the concepts of “modernism” and “postmodernism.” Certainly, we’ll take up these terms during the course, but I want to resist using them as “check list” terms to identify what thought goes where. This course should be an exploration and confrontation with the multiple ways 20th century thought has developed and, more importantly, altered the intellectual landscape.

We’ll be reading Octavia E. Butler’s “Kindred,” Italo Calvino’s “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” selections from John Dos Passos’ “The Big Money,” and Don DeLillo's "Underworld." We’ll also come to terms with Baudrillard’s investigation into kitsch, irony, and banality with a brief detour through Disneyland; Foucault’s discussion of panopticism; Zizek’s analysis of 9/11; Althusser's "hailing" on the street; and Barthes’ murder of the author. We’ll watch “Blue Velvet” by David Lynch and grapple with what Paul Coughlin’s calls the film’s “postmodern parody” of ideology. We’ll also traverse the virtual reality and simulations of David Cronenberg’s depiction of video game technology and reality/virtuality in “eXistenZ.” I'd also like to think through parody, intertextuality/pastiche, and ambivalence in Southpark. Lastly, we will briefly cover select criticism on the above texts in order to further enrich class discussion and your own inquiry into the developments of 20th century thought. Music too will play a significant role in helping us think about literature and some of the more general changes in artistic production during the 20th century. Some composers/bands to be emphasized will be John Cage, Steve Reich, The Beatles, Sonic Youth (is there a "postmodern rock music?") and others. Also, don’t be surprised if I manage to make MTV’s "The Hills" relevant here and there. It’s not reality television—its hyperreality television!

This will be a very challenging and intense course. I expect students to have an open mind and be willing to engage complex ideas outside the so-called "norm." Following this approach, this course is not interested in whether students "agree" or "disagree" with the texts we are reading. The goal of this course, instead, is to learn how to think through and with these ideas. As Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari write, "the less people take thought seriously, the more they think in conformity with what the State wants. Truly, what man of the State has not dreamed of that paltry impossible thing--to be a thinker?" So, let's use this course to become thinkers and inventors of concepts by engaging with other provocative and challenging concepts. Therefore, we will entertain troubling thoughts and how thought troubles and how we might trouble thought.

A WORD OF CAUTION CONCERNING BLUE VELVET Blue Velvet is rated R. It contains scenes of violence, violence against women, sadomasochism, nudity, wonton use of the “F” word, and a severed ear. If you are offended by any of the above, please come talk to me and we will work together in choosing a film for you to watch in place of Blue Velvet. Considering current, basic cable TV shows like CSI, Law and Order, Jerry Springer, etc; Blue Velvet does not show anything you haven’t already seen. I urge all of you to watch the film as it fits perfectly with the theme of this class. Further, David Lynch is one of the most important American directors currently working in cinema and you can’t graduate from college without having seen one of his films.

Book List: Butler, Octavia E. Kindred, ISBN# 0807083690; Calvino, Italo If on a winter’s night a traveler, ISBN# 0156439611

A Course Packet

Films: Lynch, David "Blue Velvet"; Cronenberg, David "eXistenZ"

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Class Discussion, in class writing, group work/discussion, course blog posts, and Lecture

Recommended preparation

Although not required nor a prerequisite, having had a composition course (131, 111, 121) will be helpful.

Class assignments and grading

Two 2 1/2, single-spaced page papers, Weekly GoPosts (i.e. online posted reading responses), participation in the form of in-class freewriting.

Goposts, participation (freewrites), and both papers


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Donald L Anderson
Date: 12/15/2008